Marks & Spencer was hit by a shortage of top fashion lines that undermined general merchandise sales in the fourth quarter.

 The retailer reported that it was making “continued progress in a challenging market” and that full-year profits would meet expectations.

However while UK food like-for-likes advanced 1% in the 13 weeks to March 31, general merchandise was down 2.8% - a worse performance than had been expected.

The retailer said that menswear, lingerie and childrenswear all performed strongly but womenswear was “mixed”.

M&S said some key womenswear lines did well but admitted: “We performed less well in other areas where we were short of stock in a number of best-selling lines.

“We are taking steps to address this by strengthening our merchandising capabilities. We managed stock very tightly, resulting in less stock going into our mid-season Sale.”

Group sales rose 0.8% in the quarter. Total UK sales climbed 1.2% led by food which was ahead 3.1%.

Total UK general merchandise sales slipped 1.2%. Clothing was down 0.3%. The hard-pressed home category suffered a 7.5% decline, which M&S said was almost entirely driven by its withdrawal from technology categories.

Direct sales soared 22.8% while international revenues, affected by economic turmoil in countries such as Greece and Ireland, fell 2%.

M&S said that pilot stores have done well and the model will be rolled out across its estate.

 Chief executive Marc Bolland, said: “We have continued to manage costs tightly, and are confident of delivering full year profits in line with expectations.

“While the short term trading outlook continues to be challenging, we are focused on investing in line with our plan and are making strong progress against our goal of becoming an international, multichannel retailer.”