Marks & Spencer has reported a 6.1% increase in its half year profits up to £284 million, while sales from M& increased by over a third.

The high street retailer also reported an overall sales increase of 1.4% to £5 billion for its 26 weeks ending 26 September, with food sales increasing 0.2% on a like-for-like basis.

But the half year results showed troubling signs of the health of its general merchandising (GM) business – which includes homeware and fashion.

Despite reporting a rise in sales from GM in April, M&S is continuing to struggle with the non-food arm of its business, with like-for-like sales decreasing 1.2% due to unseasonable conditions and decisions to focus on full price sales.

CEO, Marc Bolland, said: "We delivered good underlying profit growth in the first half and made strong progress against our key priorities. Our food business again outperformed the market by over 3% points as our focus on quality and innovation continues to set us apart. In general merchandise we decided to improve profitability by focusing on gross margin, delivering another significant increase, which in part resulted in slightly lower sales. As a consequence of good performance and strong cash generation we have decided to increase our dividend."

Bryan Roberts, director at Kantar Retail, commented: "Any M&S CEO will rue the day that former boss Lord Rose famously declared that “weather is for wimps,” for a combination of unhelpful weather and deepening competition in the fashion market has been blamed for yet another flaccid showing from the retailer in general merchandise. Shareholders might well be beginning to question whether recent hints of green shoots from womenswear were just a false dawn. On the upside, though, profitability is being assisted through a long-overdue consolidation in procurement and more disciplined discounting. Food, meanwhile, continues to tick along respectably thanks to ongoing innovation and seasonal excellence."

Online & Sparks

But online sales are increasing for M&S and considering the retailer does not sell food online, it must be relieved with its 34.2% growth across all key eCommerce metrics.

An M&S spokesperson told Essential eCommerce: "M& enjoyed an ahead-of-the-market performance with sales growth of 34.2%. Traffic, customer satisfaction and conversation all improved as customers enjoyed the editorial inspiration and improved shopping experience. We're continuing strengthen our  digital capabilities - ensuring we have the right skills in house to help us continue to innovate." 

Last month, M&S launched a new loyalty scheme called Sparks which encourages more customers to go online by providing a web and mobile portal to access their account. Sparks members are asked to download the free M&S app which will allow them to manage their membership, check points and access special offers.

The retailer said the launch of Sparks was made possible by its recent digital infrastructure transformation, after moving away from Amazon in 2014 to create its own customer web platform using in-house development capabilities.