Marks and Spencer has posted figures for the Christmas trading period, which saw organic growth across food sales but a decline in like-for-like general merchandise, mainly clothing, sales.
The retailer reported a 5.8% fall across what was mainly its fashion category, its 14th consecutive quarterly drop in sales which was blamed on unseasonal autumn weather.
Despite a refurbed website, the British retailer also recorded a 5.9% drop in online sales, largely owing to what Marc Bolland, CEO at M&S described as “an unsatisfactory performance in our e-commerce distribution centre” following unprecedented Black Friday demand.
In an age where next-day delivery and click-and-collect has become the norm for many consumers, Marks and Spencer failed to perform at the worst time of the year. At the back of thirteen successive quarters of falling sales in its clothing division, M&S failed to strategise for the recent festive period.
The delivery issues during the Christmas period, which saw customers having to wait up to 10 days for order, not only had a detrimental effect on the retailer’s sales figures but also on M&S’s reputation, something which could always be relied upon in the past.
It was not the only retailer to suffer, with other companies experiencing a drop in sales over the same period. Convenience was the dominant trend during the season, demonstrated by the surge in online sales and increase in shopping at local express stores.
Those retailers who came out on top over Christmas such as John Lewis and House of Fraser implemented a multi-faceted, digital approach focusing on in-demand services such as click-and-collect and allowing consumers to take control of their shopping experience, from start to finish.
Of the struggle in the fashion department, Phil Dorrell, Director of the retail consultancy Retail Remedy, commented:
“However many luxury mince pies and champagne it shifts, M&S’s food sales cannot mask its increasingly dire clothing sales figures.
The 40-something customer that M&S seeks to attract is far more fashion conscious than the brand gives them credit for - and the reality is most of them don’t want to be shopping in a store that seems to be catering for ages 40 to 140.
The improved margin on clothes is a sound long-term aim, but Marks remains a volume retailer and not a boutique. It simply cannot allow sales to fall at the current rate. A 5.3% like-for-like fall in clothing sales is woeful compared to the success of its high street rivals, and unforgivable given the length of time it has been working on a turnaround strategy.”