Reduced promotions and a customer shift towards ‘better’ and ‘best’ product helped Marks & Spencer make progress in the key clothing category in the first quarter.

Clothing like-for-likes fell 0.6% in the period, partly affected by the launch of a new web platform, but edged up 0.1% in total. Womenswear sales were up, the retailer said.

M&S chief executive Marc Bolland flagged an increased focus on margin through full-price sales and less emphasis on promotions as contributors towards “continued improvement” in clothing.

M&S said promotions were down 4.5% in the quarter to June 28, compared with a reduction in the wider market of 1.4%.

The figure partly reflects the decision to keep a tight leash on promotions online while the new site settles in.

But Bolland cited the retailer’s initiatives to improve quality and style as having driven improvement. ‘Best’ lines accounted for 28% of sales, up year-on-year from 22%.

Womenswear “fast-track trend lines” were ahead by 30% and the Limited brand was up 11% year-on-year. “We are very pleased,” said Bolland.

However, Neil Saunders, managing director of retail consultancy Conlumino, said: “The latest update tells an old tale – that the strategy on clothing will deliver results if only it is given more time.

“There may well be some merit in this story, but it is one that can only be spun for so long. Given that the latest set of numbers represents a rather lacklustre performance – especially when considered against a market that has performed strongly over the past three months – we believe that this point is now approaching.”