Marks and Spencer has delivered it strongest quarterly update for two years after a strong performance in food offset continued weakness in clothing.
UK like-for-likes edged up 0.6%, and within that food jumped 4% while general merchandise – comprising fashion and home – fell 3.8%.
Marks and Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland said: “We are working hard on improving our performance in general merchandise and, despite difficult trading conditions, we made progress in our operational execution.
“We delivered an excellent result in food, with performance well ahead of the market, as customers continued to trust us for provenance and quality. We are increasingly seen as the destination shop for special occasions.
“Multichannel sales growth accelerated and our International business also performed well during the quarter.”
Group sales were up 3.1%, while international sales climbed 7%.
The retailer said it faced “difficult trading conditions” in general merchandise. “We held our full price trading stance for much of the quarter but, as the promotional activity in the marketplace intensified in March, we reacted with selected tactical offers”, Marks & Spencer said.
The retailer said that customers are “responding well” to better editing of the spring/summer product ranges and that the new team, including Belinda Earl who joined as style director in September, has started to deliver operational improvements, with both availability and stock management ahead of last year.
Food had an “excellent quarter”, said Marks & Spencer, which highlighted that it has reported more than three years of like-for-like growth in the category.
The retailer delivered its strongest ever Easter week and said that is was “pleased to be unaffected by the recent issues affecting the food industry”. Grocers including Asda and Tesco are among the supermarket groups to have become embroiled in the horse meat scandal.
Marks & Spencer said: “In January we said we expect the pressure on consumers’ disposable incomes to continue throughout 2013. As a result we were cautious about the outlook for the year ahead and this view remains unchanged. We continue to make good progress in transforming Marks & Spencer from a traditional UK retailer to an international multichannel retailer.”
Multichannel growth “accelerated” in the quarter, rising by 22.9%. The growth was driven by the retailer’s click-and-collect offer, ‘Shop Your Way’, as well as increased traffic to the website. Mobile sales surged by more than 70%.
Marks & Spencer’s new web platform is on track to launch in Spring 2014.
The franchise business in the Middle East delivered a “good” performance. In Asia, the retailer’s key markets of India and China “continued to trade strongly”.
“Despite the macro-economic issues in some of the legacy markets, our performance in Europe improved in the quarter,” it said.
Total UK sales were up 2.6%.