M&S blames new website as non-food sales fall again

Marks & Spencer has announced an 8% drop in quarterly online sales, a decline it attributes to the impact of "settling in of the new .com site", a lack of promotional activity and an "increased focus on margin".

M&S.com: the bedding-in of the new website is cited as a reason for falling sales
M&S.com: the bedding-in of the new website is cited as a reason for falling sales

M&S.com sales fell 8.1% during the three months ending 28 June, while overall general merchandise like-for-like sales fell 1.5%.

Marc Bolland, M&S’s chief executive, said that because of an "increased focus on margin [M&S was] less promotional, both online and in stores"; although the retailer had said in April that it was planning a marketing campaign for May to promote the new site after it presented an in-depth overview of the overhaul to analysts.

Commenting on today’s results, Bolland said that the new website, which was previously powered via a now-terminated partnership with Amazon, has been "technically resilient" and garnered "positive customer feedback on [its] enhanced fashion and style content".

He added: "As previously indicated, we are now focused on optimising the website commercially, with updates made on a regular basis. We have recently seen a gradual improvement in sales performance, despite a lower level of promotional activity. We expect to return to growth ahead of our peak trading period."

Offsetting the lacklustre performance across general merchandise, like-for-like food sales were up 1.7%, while international sales grew 4.7%.

But James McGregor, director of retail consultants Retail Remedy, questioned the apportioning of blame for ailing sales to the new website. He said: "This is the last quarter that the bedding-in of the new website can be used as an excuse for the poor performance of clothing.

"Alongside clothing, the ongoing performance of food is starting to look tragicomic. Clothing at M&S is still very much on the rack and we will need to see strong numbers on a consistent basis to be convinced otherwise.

"The problem M&S is facing is the biggest problem of all for a retailer – identity. It still seems unsure who its target market is; the young or the old? M&S wants to be an international, multi-channel brand, but will it ever achieve this while its identity problems continue?"

Earlier this month, M&S announced changes to its board, including an extended remit for marketing chief Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne.

Reporting on its previous quarter’s performance, M&S avoided an 11th consecutive quarter of declining clothing sales.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).