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M&S to Shut a Third of U.K. Clothing Stores Amid Online Push

Updated on
  • Retailer will close more than 100 stores over next four years
  • M&S has been slow to react to the rise of e-commerce

Marks & Spencer Group Plc plans to close around a third of its large U.K. stores over the next four years, as the retailer belatedly adapts to the rise of e-commerce.

M&S will close more than 100 stores that sell both clothing and food by 2022, the company said in a statement Tuesday. The London-based retailer intends to increase the proportion of online clothing sales to one-third, from about 18 percent now. The shares fell as much as 2.9 percent in London, giving back Monday’s gains.

“This will probably still leave them with too much store space,” according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Charles Allen. “M&S has to get its clothing-and-home stores down to a much smaller number unless they can demonstrate there is a real purpose to them.”

After years of putting off store closings, M&S is taking more drastic action to halt its loss of market share to online rivals and discounters under Chairman Archie Norman. J Sainsbury Plc’s $10 billion acquisition of Walmart Inc.’s Asda will create the U.K.’s largest retailer and intensify the pressure on M&S in clothing and food.

Online shopping accounts for 22 percent of non-food retail sales in the U.K., according to the British Retail Consortium. That shift is forcing merchants to operate from fewer, higher-quality locations. M&S said its remaining clothing and home stores will be larger and more oriented around technology. Fourteen stores will be closed in M&S’s current financial year and 21 have already been shut.

Read more: How Zara is modernizing its stores

M&S also said it will open 15 fewer Simply Food outlets, which don’t sell clothing, this year. The retailer had planned to open 200 more food stores from 2017. Its food stores will double up as next-day order-collection points for clothing purchases, the retailer said. M&S has more than 1,000 stores, but nearly 700 of them sell food only.

M&S reports full-year results on Wednesday, with investors expecting more details on the extent to which investments in logistics will affect earnings.

Short selling -- in which investors seek to profit from selling borrowed shares and later buying them back at a lower price -- has spiked. Nearly 16 percent of M&S’s shares are currently on loan, according to IHS Markit data. That’s the second-highest level of any company in the U.K.’s benchmark FTSE 100 index.

(Updates with analyst comment in third paragraph, short selling in eighth paragraph.)
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