LONDON (Reuters) – Marks & Spencer (M&S) saw another big fall in sales of clothing and homeware in the Christmas quarter as COVID-19 restrictions hit demand and closed space, factors it said were masking progress made on its turnaround plan.
M&S Chief Executive Steve Rowe said that the latest national lockdowns across Britain announced this month, which could potentially extend until Easter, meant clothing and home sales would likely deteriorate further.
“Near term trading remains very challenging but we are continuing to accelerate change under our Never the Same Again programme to ensure the business emerges from the pandemic in very different shape,” Rowe told reporters.
He said the Christmas performance was “robust…in near impossible conditions” and M&S had made “good progress” in repositioning clothing and home ranges and buying.
However, this was hidden by the effects of COVID-19 restrictions and demand distortions, Rowe added.
M&S, one of the best known names in British retail, said revenue in its clothing and home division slumped 25.1% in the 13 weeks to Dec. 26, its fiscal third quarter, having fallen 21.3% in the previous quarter.
Food sales did, however, rise 2.2%, building on a 1.6% second quarter increase at M&S, which was struggling to reinvent itself after decades of failed attempts before the pandemic.
M&S said in May that the crisis would indelibly change its business and it would speed-up its latest turnaround plan, delivering three years of change in one.
In August, it cut 7,000 jobs and in November it reported a first loss in its 94 years as a publicly listed company.
M&S shares were down 2.3% at 1055 GMT, extending year-on-year losses to 29% after the results, which showed a fall of 46.5% in clothing and home store sales was partly offset by online growth of 47.5%.
Rowe said food had performed particularly well in the four-week period leading up to Christmas, with like-for-like sales, excluding hospitality and franchise up 8.7%, with large retail park and Simply Food stores significantly outperforming.
He said M&S’s joint venture with Ocado had also performed well.
M&S’s said its international revenue fell 10.4% due to changing restrictions related to the pandemic and warned that potential post-Brexit tariffs on goods exported to the European Union, together with complex administrative processes, would significantly impact its businesses in Ireland, the Czech Republic and its franchise business in France.
It said it is working to mitigate the issues.
Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kate Holton, Jane Merriman, Edmund Blair and Alexander Smith