Marks & Spencer returns to France

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Marks & Spencer today announced plans to return to France, a decade after it pulled out of the country.

The retailer is to launch a website in France and open a three-storey outlet on the Champs Elysees in Paris towards the end of 2011, selling womenswear, lingerie and food, as part of new boss Marc Bolland's strategy for the business.

M&S also wants to open Simply Food stores in suitable locations in and around Paris and is looking for sites for larger food and clothes stores.

M&S hopes to open around five Simply Food stores and "a handful" of larger stores in and around Paris, according to a spokeswoman.

The Simply Food stores will be in transport hubs such as railway stations and airports and will be run by SSP, which operates 39 Simply Food stores as franchises in the UK.

The website, which will trade in euros, will be the group's first to allow international transactions.

While its stores will be located around Paris, the website will enable deliveries across France. The group hopes it will appeal to expatriates living in France as well as French consumers.

Despite not having traded in the country for a decade, M&S still thinks the brand is held in high esteem by the French and said a recent survey showed 70% of consumers recognise its brand.

Speaking from Paris, Mr Bolland said: "Marks & Spencer has great brand awareness here in France and a place in customers' hearts."

M&S closed its 38 stores in continental Europe in 2001 to concentrate on turning around its UK business. It had 18 stores in France, of which 10 were in Paris.

Former boss Sir Stuart Rose said last year the decision to withdraw was a mistake, calling it "tragic".

Mr Bolland, who arrived at M&S from supermarket rival Morrisons in May, recently said he wanted to up the pace of the group's international expansion as part of his vision to transform the business.

M&S already has 358 stores in 42 overseas territories, but Mr Bolland said there was scope for faster growth, particularly in Asia.