Marks & Spencer blames unseasonable weather for fall in clothing sales…and consultant compares stores to museums where old people like to shop

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Marks & Spencer: profits fall

Marks & Spencer: museums for older people?

Marks & Spencer has blamed “unseasonable conditions in September” for its 13th consecutive quarterly fall in clothing sales.

The retailer said like-for-like general merchandise sales – which mostly comprise clothing – fell 4% in the second quarter.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said he was “pleased” with its progress in “challenging market conditions”.

Phil Dorrell, director of the retail consultancy Retail Remedy, claimed the contrast between the fortunes of M&S’ food and clothes ranges is getting starker by the day.

“Its well-presented, well-marketed and professional-friendly food ranges provide the sole bright point in some otherwise grim results,” he said.

“No amount of hand-wringing about September’s unseasonal weather can explain away such weak clothing sales across the six month period.”

According to Dorrell, the brand is finally introducing more clarity to its overcomplex clothing lines. However, beyond the flagships, many stores are still a mess of baffling sub-brands, he said.

“[They] feel like museums where older people go to browse endless rows of black slacks,” said Dorrell.

The website was the worst performer of the lot – revenue was down 6.3% during the two quarters, said Dorrell.

“It needs an urgent overhaul, as despite being compendious it lacks the flair or ease of use of rivals like Next, Zara and H&M to which younger customers have defected in droves.

“You get the sense that most British people still bear a degree of goodwill towards M&S – while quietly wishing it were better and more relevant than it actually is.

“But you have to wonder how long that can last, and when customers will start to once again advocate rather than grumble about the brand.

“The late autumn has conspired against this year’s autumn-winter season being the catalyst for change it needed to be. So the pressure on the brand to get it right in spring will be greater than ever,” he said.