New year slump prompts fears that M&S is 'losing middle England'

Sales drop in fashion line will heap pressure on beleaguered chief executive Marc Bolland

LAST UPDATED AT 10:46 ON Mon 25 Feb 2013

MARKS & SPENCER was the big loser in the new year sales as customers appeared to defect to Primark and Zara, according to figures seen by the Sunday Times.

Sales of M&S's fashion lines dropped 1.3 per cent in the 24 weeks to January 20 and the retailer's market share shrank by 0.4 per cent, prompting critics to voice fears that M&S has lost its connection with its "middle England" heartland. Primark and Zara both enjoyed double-digit growth in the same period, while Debenhams, H&M and Next also performed well despite the snow, according to industry data from the research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

M&S chief executive Marc Bolland is already under pressure following dismal sales in the run-up to Christmas 2012, when like-for-like purchases fell by 3.8 per cent compared with the previous year. Bollard has asked investors to wait for figures for the improved autumn/winter 2013 collection to emerge after he brought in former Jaeger boss Belinda Earl as style director in September 2012 to help revive the womenswear department.

Last week the company announced a three-year deal with the British Fashion Council in a bid to transform its fortunes, the Daily Telegraph notes. M&S plans to unveil two clothing ranges in April, which it claims will "feature a combination of British heritage, sourcing and production".

Kantar Worldpanel's figures come after the Office for National Statistics said retail sales fell by 0.6 per in January, confounding analysts' predictions of a 0.9 per cent rise. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.