Marks & Spencer’s decline in clothing sales has slowed, according to figures from Kantar Worldpanel for the 24 weeks to July 7.

The retailer’s clothing sales, which have suffered two years of decline, fell 0.9% year on year in the 24 weeks to July 7, compared with a 3% fall in the 24 weeks to June 9.

The data, seen by the Financial Times, also showed that M&S’s market share fell 19 basis points, an improvement on the 38 basis point drop in the previous period. The improved performance will ease pressure on M&S chief executive Marc Bolland, who has just overseen the launch of M&S’s crucial autumn range, which started going into stores last month.

Some of the period covered by Kantar’s data was included in M&S’s latest update, which showed underlying sales of general merchandise, largely comprising clothing, fell 1.6% in the three months to June 29.

The news comes after M&S revealed yesterday it is to shut four of its stores in the Republic of Ireland, resulting in the loss of 180 jobs.

The closures follow a strategic review of the Irish portfolio and harsh economic conditions since the onset of the financial crisis.

Kantar data showed clothing sales across the market were up 3.2% in the 12 weeks to July 7, compared with a 0.1% increase in the 12 weeks to June 9, as the heat wave drove demand.

Debenhams’ sales jumped 4.2% in the 24 weeks to July 7, up from 3.6% in the previous 24 week period, and Next’s sales growth improved to 2% from 0.8%.