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M& sales continued to fall in the first half – but the retailer predicts a return to growth by Christmas

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M&S today reported a continued fall in ecommerce sales in the first half of its financial year, but said it expected to return to online growth ahead of Christmas.

The multichannel food-to-clothing retailer has seen online sales fall, compared to the same time last year, since it launched its new M& website in February. The new website marked a transition for the retailer as it moved from an Amazon platform to its own, developed in-house.

The 8.1% fall in online sales reported at the end of the first quarter improved in the second quarter to -4.6% as improvements were made to the site. Internet sales over the full 26 weeks to September 27 were down by 6.3% compared to the same time last year.

“We remain on track to return to growth ahead of our peak trading period,” said the company in its statement to the City. “We have made a number of updates to the website such as improved navigation and display and new guest checkout facility, resulting in an improvement in customer satisfaction with the website experience. This has led to increased traffic and conversion rates since launch.”

In total, it said, 5m customers had shopped on the new website since launch. Investment in supply chain infrastructure has meant improved delivery including a 10pm last online ordering time for next-day home delivery, and a 5pm last ordering time for store collection.

The update came as M&S reported group sales of £4.9bn in the half-year, up by 0.5% on the same time last year. UK sales improved by 1% to £4.4bn but international sales fell by 3.4% to £533.7m as a result of currency fluctuations. Pre-tax profit fell by 0.4% to £279.4m.

Like-for-like general merchandise sales fell by 2.9%, with clothing hit by “unseasonal trading conditions” in September. The company said that home sales – a third of which take place online – fell in the first half, as sales over M& declined. Food sales were up by 1% on a like-for-like basis, which strips out the effect of store openings and closures.

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