If it’s not one thing it seems to be another at Marks & Spencer.

If it’s not one thing it seems to be another at Marks & Spencer.

After a lengthy period of underperformance in the crucial clothing category, the last few updates have given grounds for cautious optimism.

The first-quarter trading statement told a similar story. Womenswear sales were up, the retailer reported, and clothing in general showed “continued improvement” albeit still down 0.6% like-for-like.

Not so long ago, such figures might have been cause for modest celebration.

They are a sign that M&S’s efforts to improve quality and style are paying off – a viewpoint reinforced by the facts that more sales were made at full price and that shoppers bought in to lines in the upper brackets of the retailer’s price architecture.

But the sheen was taken off M&S’s update by the performance of the online business, which in turn affected general merchandise performance more widely – as, it should be acknowledged, the retailer had indicated would be the case.

But an 8.1% slide in online sales raised eyebrows. It’s hard to think of many other examples of a relaunched website suffering such a hit.

Although issues such as the need for customers to re-register for the site following its move off Amazon’s platform may be accepted as legitimate hurdles that M&S has had to leap, some City observers clearly fear that there could be some more deep-rooted problems.

M&S boss Marc Bolland dismissed such suggestions. He confidently anticipated a return to online sales growth ahead of peak. Once again the City is biting its finger-nails to see whether M&S can fire on all cylinders.