M&S is to pull out of five Balkan countries next year as it aims to focus on more successful markets in the region, including Romania and Poland.

The retailer will close a total of 12 stores in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Slovenia – a complete exit from the countries. The closures, which begin in January, will affect 106 employees.

It is understood most of the stores opened before the retailer launched its current international expansion strategy, which set a target of 250 openings by 2017. The retailer admitted in September it would not meet that figure because of conflict in the Middle East and the economic slowdown in China.

Commenting on the Balkan closures, an M&S spokesman said: “We continue to closely manage our international business and take decisive actions as necessary to ensure our store portfolio is fit for the future of M&S.

“On this occasion this means closing a handful of small stores in the Balkans to enable us to firmly focus on our successful business in Romania, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. We do not take these decisions lightly and fully recognise the impact of our decisions on our employees and customers.”

There will be store launches in the Czech Republic and Poland in 2016 and 2017, while two branches in Romania have been refurbished this summer and a further shop will be overhauled next summer to increase its overall space.

New international plans

Last month, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of marketing and international, said the retailer had been forced to adjust its international plans, including openings in Russia where it has halted the launch of five stores.

He said: “The world has shifted, it is a different place. The Syrian situation was very different from what it is today. Putin has invaded Ukraine and China was growing at close to 9%.

“It is reasonable in that context that you would expect a different outlook on the next three years for the company.”