M&S to close Simply Food stores – after new one just opens on A140

Marks & Spencer in Norwich. Pic: Archant.

Marks & Spencer in Norwich. Pic: Archant.

The retail giant is to close another 85 stores and 25 Simply Food outlets after a 10% drop in profits – but aren't revealing yet where the axe will fall.

The high street retailer posted underlying pre-tax profits of £523.2 million for the year to March 30, down from £580.9 million the previous year after falling sales in its food halls and clothes sections.

This marks a further blow after the closure of 35 branches already outlined for 2018-19 - which include the store in Felixstowe, Suffolk. It hasn't been revealed where the new closures will be and just comes after a new Simply Food outlet opened at a new BP filling station on the A140 at Scole, near Diss.

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M&S boss Steve Rowe said there were "green shoots" of a turnaround, but added that performance was not consistent and had been hit by its store closure programme and wide-ranging revamp plan.

The group warned that it remained in the "difficult early stages" of its turnaround and progress will largely not come until the second half of 2019-20.

In an update on its shop closure programme, it said it was relocating or reducing Simply Food shops that have lower sales as it focuses efforts on the best-performing locations.

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It said: "Our strategy is as much about right sizing, relocating and new openings as it is about closures.

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"As such we anticipate our owned store base is likely to remain broadly level."

Comparable sales in its troubled womenswear arm dropped 1.6% with a 1.3% fall in the final three months after it was hit by the timing of Easter and poor stock availability.

Like-for-like sales in its food halls fell 2.3% following a 1.5% decline in the fourth quarter, although this was also affected by the timing of Easter.

Mr Rowe said: "Whilst there are green shoots, we have not been consistent in our delivery in a number of areas of the business.

"M&S is changing faster than at any time in my career - substantial changes across the business to our processes, ranges and operations - and this has constrained this year's performance, particularly in clothing and home.

"However, we remain on track with our transformation and are now well on the road to making M&S special again."