Under-pressure Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland offered a glimmer of hope in last week’s trading update. In what was a break from tradition, the retailer split out its clothing sales from the wider general merchandise performance.

Under-pressure Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland offered a glimmer of hope in last week’s trading update. In what was a break from tradition, the retailer split out its clothing sales from the wider general merchandise performance.

General merchandise like-for-likes fell 0.6% while by contrast, clothing like-for-likes were up 0.6%. While this clothing performance means M&S is by no means out of the water yet, it is encouraging.

And as womenswear generally leads a clothing revival, it was this sector that Bolland highlighted, saying it showed “a clear sign of improvement and performed ahead of clothing”.

Breaking out clothing from the rest of general merchandise gives more transparency, and follows on from Christmas when the retailer gave figures for a shorter festive period – the eight weeks to December 24 – as well as the standard third-quarter performance.

In both instances, M&S broke out the figures to show it is moving in the right direction. Encouraging as it is, M&S now needs to ensure it continues to break out those figures in future updates to show full transparency.

Analysts should be able to see the how the retailer is tracking on all levels, and while Bolland will be working to ensure its clothing figures continue to climb, he also needs to be prepared to deliver those figures if they don’t go in the right direction.

A solid start

Bonmarche – the women’s fashion retailer aimed at the over-50s – has delivered a strong end to the year despite the difficult climate. Like-for-like sales up 16.3% in its fourth quarter.

Such a performance is testament to a successful IPO. Bonmarche was one of the first among the retailers to float late last year, and did so without the pomp and ceremony of some of those that followed and that have since failed to live up to early expectations.

It may not be the sexiest sector but with shares floating at 200p and now standing at 295p, it is definitely appealing to the City.