M&S hails high street recovery

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Rose finally hailed a "recovery" at the high street chain today after sales surged in the build-up to Christmas.

M&S said same store sales were 5.6% higher between October and December than they were in the same period 12 months earlier.

Mr Rose, who until today has refused to use what he calls "the R-word", said: "We have now delivered growth on growth in all areas of our business, thus completing the first part of our recovery plan."

M&S said like-for-like sales in general merchandise including clothes were up 7.1% in the three-month period, while food sales were up 3.6%.

Total sales growth including new and expanded stores was 9.2%, with general merchandise up 9% and food up 9.5%.

It was also a good quarter for internet sales which were up 70% at M&S, with the website attracting nine million customers.

Overall, third quarter growth was slightly slower than in the first and second quarters but was against much tougher comparatives following a strong Christmas in 2005.

Mr Rose warned that the tougher environment was set to continue.

"M&S had a good Christmas," he said. "In the fourth quarter, we come up against significantly tougher comparatives, whilst facing a more challenging retail environment.

"This quarter will be impacted by the next phase of our store modernisation programme, which starts earlier than last year.

"We plan to have over 70% of our store space in the new format by Christmas 2007."

He added: "We remain on track to further drive and broaden our business. "

M&S is in the middle of a multi-million pound revamp of its stores - once seen as cluttered and uninviting - as it looks to lure back shoppers.

It recently announced the first major shake-up of its store portfolio for almost a decade, including plans to open major out-of-town sites and concentrate on retail parks.

And it has also improved its range of clothing and food under Mr Rose, whose first action as chief executive when he took over the languishing business in 2004 was to fight off a possible takeover from retail rival Sir Philip Green.

However, much of the credit for the dramatic turnaround has focused on the advertising campaign featuring 1960s style icon Twiggy and models Erin O'Connor, Laura Bailey and Noemie Lenoir.

The Christmas adverts also featured singer Shirley Bassey, while the food adverts feature the voice-over: "This is not just food, this is M&S food."