May 22, 2018 / 9:06 AM / a month ago

M&S to close 100 UK stores by 2022 as it speeds-up change

LONDON (Reuters) - British retailer Marks & Spencer plans to close more than 100 stores in its home market by 2022, accelerating a drive to re-shape its business as it strives to make at least a third of sales online.

A sign is seen on the exterior of a branch of Marks and Spencer in central London, Britain, November 3, 2017. Picture taken November 3, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The closures represent around a tenth of the clothing and food group’s UK stores, as it grapples with weak consumer spending and intense competition from supermarkets, fashion chains like Zara and H&M as well as online giant Amazon.

Marks & Spencer (M&S), one of the best known names in UK retail, first said it would reduce the amount of store space devoted to clothing and homewares in 2016, shortly after company lifer Steve Rowe became chief executive.

Then in November last year, three months after retail veteran Archie Norman joined as chairman, the firm said it would speed-up the program. It said it had not lost as many customers as expected when stores closed, making quicker and further closures viable.

Tuesday’s announcement represents a further step-up of the plan. The figure of more than 100 closures includes 21 that have already shut and 14 stores newly identified for closure.

M&S also said 15 fewer company-owned Simply Food stores would open this year.

As of the end of March, the retailer had 1,035 UK stores, made up of 300 clothing, home and food stores, 696 food-only stores and 39 outlets.

Currently, around 18 percent of M&S’ clothing and home sales are made online. It does not sell groceries online, though it is carrying out trials.

“Alongside relocations, conversions, downsizes and the introduction of concessions, these closures will radically reshape M&S’s clothing and home space,” the firm said.

The latest tranche of closures will affect 626 M&S employees. All staff will be offered redeployment before redundancy is considered.

“Closing stores isn’t easy but it is vital for the future of M&S,” said retail director Sacha Berendji.

Shares in M&S were down 3 percent at 1017 GMT.

M&S is expected to report a second straight fall in annual profit on Wednesday, and with the retailer’s shares down nearly a quarter over the last year it is in danger of soon being booted out of the FTSE 100 index.

Reporting by James Davey, Editing by Alistair Smout and Mark Potter

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