Shareholders vent frustration as M&S non-food sales fall again

Tue Jul 8, 2014 12:25pm EDT
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By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - Marks & Spencer's (MKS.L: Quote) army of small shareholders warned Chief Executive Marc Bolland they were running out of patience on Tuesday after the British retailer reported its 12th consecutive drop in quarterly general merchandise sales.

Bolland, CEO since 2010, has spent 2.3 billion pounds ($3.9 billion) in three years to address decades of under investment at the country's biggest clothing retailer, overseeing the redesign of products and stores and hiring a new clothing team.

But a trading update ahead of the annual shareholder meeting showed first-quarter sales were hit by problems with its new website, which sent online sales down 8.1 percent, and dragged clothing, footwear and homeware sales down 1.5 percent at shops open at least a year.

The problem with the website, while well-flagged, took the shine off a small rise in sales at Marks & Spencer's (M&S) flagship womenswear ranges and prompted questions about when the heavy investment would pay off.

"This must be the slowest turnaround of a ship in history," a private M&S shareholder identified as Mr Jarvis, told a packed annual investor meeting at London's Wembley Stadium complex.

Roger Leon, another private shareholder, accused Bolland of a failure of leadership, while a third, retired staff member Mr Brown, said the CEO had consistently failed to deliver.

"Each time (AGM) your promises have filled us full of confidence for the forthcoming year, only to return a year later full of disappointment," he said.

Private shareholder John Farmer, a meeting regular, also echoed the negative tone. "Let us see some actual improvement, rather than recurrent excuses," he said.   Continued...

Marks & Spencer signs are seen outside outside a store in London January 8, 2014.   REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth