The dip in income from stores open for a year or more was driven by a 3.8 per cent fall in general merchandise, predominantly clothing sales, in the three months to 29 December. The decrease was partially offset by an increase in food sales, up 0.3 per cent in the quarter.
Discussing the sales performance Wednesday evening, 12 hours ahead of schedule after the statement was leaked to Sky News, chief executive Marc Bolland, says replicating the pre-Christmas heavy discounting by many retailers would have damaged the M&S brand and its profit from sales.
“In a challenging and highly promotional general merchandise market, we delivered fewer but more targeted promotions, with a focus on full price sales. As a result we offered customers great value at M&S quality, whilst protecting our gross margin,” the retailer added.
Attention was also drawn to the improvement in multi-channel sales, a key focus under the stewardship of Laura Wade-Gery, which rose 10.8 per cent in the quarter.
The retailer also stressed the impact of the recently installed general merchandise management has yet to be seen. Bolland added: “We are confident that the steps being taken by the new management team will address this.”
John Dixon replaced Kate Bostock as general merchandise executive director last year, while former Debenhams and Aquascutum chief executive Belinda Earl joined as style director in the autumn.
Rivals John Lewis, Debenhams and Next have all reported increased sales for the festive period.