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M&S Sales Slump; CEO Bolland to Take Blame

When UK retailer Marks & Spencer announces, as expected, a 1 percent decline in clothing sales later this week, and as CEO Marc Bolland will be called on to answer for the downturn.

Mr. Bolland said again, as previously, that more time is required for his management changes and marketing tactics to kick in and stop the slide in sales. Meanwhile, profit forecasts for the giant M & S will be adjusted downward as margins shrink as a result of clothing discounts and M & S’s rivals —the other biggest supermarkets — compete against one another in a price-slashing free-for-all.

This year’s M & S sluggishness was additionally attributed to a lackluster sales in February and a warm up in March, according to analysts at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. When the numbers for the previous quarter are released and become official this coming Thursday, April 10, it will mark the eleventh consecutive quarterly decline in clothing sales.

Strategies by M & S to stop ever-decreasing apparel sales by changing its clothing offerings and stepping up marketing initiatives for its Leading Ladies brand have so far proved futile. Annual pre-tax profits for M & S have been forecast by City analysts at roughly 615 million pounds ($743 million).

Despite disappointing clothing sales, M & S plans to open 250 stores in the UK through the ensuing three years and will also expand its retail operations in Western Europe, India and the Middle East. Efforts by M & S to gain a foothold throughout China, however, have not succeeded and the firm announced it would try to secure a joint-venture with a Chinese firm.

Chief of M & S’s general retail unit, Richard Chamberlin, said in a statement to the media: “In clothing we think M&S sales were robust in January, but we think womenswear was more sluggish in February and in the better weather so far in March we think footfall has been diverted from stores to parks and gardens, as is so often the case. We assume some slightly higher promotional activity in Q4.”