Saturday 10 December 2016

M&S Irish website beats its UK performance

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Marks & Spencer chief executive Steve Rowe
Marks & Spencer chief executive Steve Rowe

Irish fans of Marks & Spencer are turning to online shopping at a faster rate than their UK counterparts.

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The Irish division of the world-famous British retailer saw a 59pc leap in online sales in its last twelve months.

Online sales averaged across the entire group, by comparison, rose by 23.4pc in a year in which a record 7.4m customers clicked to buy. However, growth slowed to 8.2pc in the fourth quarter, contrasting with first-quarter growth of 38.7pc.

The numbers indicate a more optimistic future for Marks & Spencer's online efforts than the reception to its €197m UK redesign in 2014 had augured. In the weeks after that launch (one of the changes pushed through by former CEO Marc Bolland), many customers complained that they found the site difficult to navigate.

In total, Irish like-for-like sales rose 1.1pc on the year before, driven by food sales as well as online growth, Marks & Spencer said. Group sales rose 2.4pc to £10.6bn.

The company has 17 stores in Ireland. It closed four, in Tallaght, Dun Laoghaire, Naas and Mullingar, three years ago.

One of the retailer's best performers in Ireland was children's wear. Sales of children's clothing grew by 69pc on the year before, driven by schoolwear in particular. Price wars have broken out in Ireland in the back-to-school market in recent years, with discounters like Aldi entering the fray.

The Marks & Spencer women's sleepwear offering also did well. Sales of the range, which includes a luxury line of pyjamas fronted by supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, rose 5.7pc.

Homewear sales climbed by 7.8pc. In its food division, international cuisine was a standout performer, with sales up 10pc on the previous year accounting for 6.6pc of total food sales. At group level its food division outperformed the market, posting a 0.2pc lift in like-for-like sales.

Its flagship Autograph range of women's clothing clocked up 1.8pc growth in sales in Ireland. New chief executive Steve Rowe has made the M&S women's clothing business, which at group level suffered a further 2.9pc sales fall in the year to April 2, his number one priority.

Discussing the company's latest results last week, Rowe delivered frank criticism of the retailer's mistakes and warned investors to brace themselves for lower profits and further sales drops while the board wrestled the company back to growth.

He said he would focus on lowering everyday prices while shifting the company away from its addiction to discounting. Around 40pc of items sold last year were at a cut-price. Marks & Spencer will also be reducing the number of promotional events by a third and scrapping flash-sales.

The retailer has been routinely criticised for trying to appeal to younger, fast-fashion shoppers at the expense of its core customer, the 50-something 'Mrs M&S' who shops with the group about 18 times a year. The company could axe some of its wide range of brands such as Per Una, Autograph, Indigo and Classic - the proliferation of which has led to confusion for some shoppers, Rowe said.

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