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M&S boss warns customer habits have been ‘changed forever’ by virus

The boss of Marks & Spencer has said some customer habits have “changed forever” as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The high street giant said the outbreak has accelerated the shift from shops towards online deliveries and will dramatically change how customers use stores.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said the “aftershocks of this will endure for the coming year and beyond”, as the firm warned that trading will suffer in the short term.

The retailer said sales in products such as “comfort bras and fitness clothing” have strengthened, while sales of suits and ties have plunged as workers stay at home.

M&S said it expects a 70% drop in UK clothing and home revenues over the four months to July, before a gradual recovery.

However, it predicted annual revenues for the current year will fall by £1.5 billion as a result.

M&S chief executive Steve Rowe (M&S/PA)
M&S chief executive Steve Rowe (M&S/PA)

It expects food sales – impacted by lower sales and closures at travel locations – to fall by 20% in the period to July before levelling out, with a £400 million impact on annual revenue.

It came as the company told investors it has “hibernated” around £200 million of unsold stock in warehouses for spring 2021.

Sales of clothing and home products plummeted after stores were shut in the face of the outbreak.

M&S revealed that profits stumbled for the past year after taking a £52 million hit due to coronavirus.

The retailer revealed that total profits dived by 21% to £403.1 million after it was dragged down by its troubled clothing business.

Mr Rowe said the company is moving forward with around £1 billion of actions – including around £500 million of planned cost reductions – to mitigate the impact of the outbreak.

He also hailed the company’s progress ahead of the launch of its joint venture with Ocado in September to deliver products to customers.

He revealed that, alongside its core food products, the company will also sell a range of clothing and home products on the platform.

I am determined to act now to... deliver a renewed, more agile business in a world that will never be the same again
Steve Rowe

The retailer said profitability improved in its food business during the year to March but profits dropped by more than a third in its clothing and home arm.

The company said group sales dipped 1.9% to £10.1 billion during the year.

Like-for-like food revenues increased by 1.9%, while its clothing business saw like-for-like revenues dive 6.2% as it was impacted by availability issues in the first half of the year.

Last month, the retail giant revealed plans for a “never the same again” overhaul as it warned the virus would impact trading for the rest of 2020.

Mr Rowe said: “Last year’s results reflect a year of substantial progress and change including the transformative investment in Ocado Retail, outperformance in Food and some green shoots in Clothing in the second half.

“However, they now seem like ancient history as the trauma of the Covid crisis has galvanised our colleagues to secure the future of the business.

“Whilst some customer habits will return to normal, others have changed forever, the trend towards digital has been accelerated, and changes to the shape of the high street brought forward.

“Most importantly, working habits have been transformed and we have discovered we can work in a faster, leaner, more effective way.

“I am determined to act now to capture this and deliver a renewed, more agile business in a world that will never be the same again.”

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