MARKS & Spencer has reported an increase in sales – as consumers defy the downturn and trade up to more premium food and clothes.
Like-for-like sales for the retailer, which has stores at New Street and the Piazza in Huddersfield as well as a food shop at Waterloo, rose by 1.7% in the 13 weeks to July 2 following a 0.1% increase in the previous quarter.
Chief executive Marc Bolland said the retailer had tapped into a trend for consumers to “buy once, buy well”, which has seen a good response to premium ranges such as Italian meats and body shaping swimwear.
M&S, which has 703 stores in the UK, has increased its share of the food and clothing markets to 3.8% and 11.7% respectively, according to industry figures.
The “growing demand for quality” and rising costs meant average selling prices were up by 7% compared with 6% in the previous quarter.
The squeeze in consumer spending has forced retailers including TJ Hughes, Jane Norman and Habitat into administration in recent months, while others, such as Mothercare, Thorntons and Comet, have announced store closures.
But Mr Bolland said M&S was an anchor of the high street and would continue to invest in its stores.
M&S’s sales figures were partly helped by an early start to the retailer’s summer sale in response to activity by competitors. The second part of its sale launches today.
The better-than-expected sales figures came as Mr Bolland prepared to face shareholders over executive pay, which has been branded excessive by one lobby group.
General merchandise sales were flat compared with a 3.4% decline in the previous quarter, but volumes were “slightly” down, reflecting the tough conditions in the market as nervous consumers delay all but essential purchases.
Best-selling lines include an Autograph suit modelled by former footballer Jamie Redknapp and maxi dresses selling for £49.50.
But customers were also buying sharply priced basic ranges. Food sales rose by 3.3% after being boosted by the bank holidays around the royal wedding and Easter as consumers bought more party food.
Some 500 new ranges have been introduced in the period, including new healthy eating products.