Marks & Spencer charts fresh overseas course

Marks & Spencer charts fresh overseas course

PARIS - Britain's biggest clothing retailer Marks & Spencer plc, hit at home by dwindling sales, plans to expand its international stores by more than a half as part of a strategy to rebuild the 130-year-old institution.

M&S, which sparked staff and customer protests when it backtracked from a previous overseas growth plan and withdrew from mainland Europe in 2001, said that it planned to expand its overseas profits by 40 per cent over three years with the opening of 250 stores, including 20 food outlets in Paris.

The international expansion follows chief executive Marc Bolland's three-year, £2.3 billion (S$4.8 billion) turnaround plan designed to transform M&S into a global, "multi-channel" retailer reaching customers through stores, the Internet and mobile devices.

"We need to build a brand internationally and be dotcom ready. That's where our future is," Mr Bolland told an investor seminar in Paris.

International expansion is far from risk-free and a number of British retailers have hit problems when trying to move outside their home market. Tesco plc, for instance, last year had to take a £1 billion writedown as it sold its problematic US chain Fresh & Easy.

But with M&S having posted 10 straight quarters of declining underlying sales in general merchandise, which includes clothing, Mr Bolland is looking overseas to provide some relief.

The group, which he has led for almost four years, is forecast by analysts to report an 11th straight fall in quarterly sales on April 10 when it updates on recent trading.

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