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M&S plans ad campaign to promote new website

High street retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) will launch a marketing campaign next month to promote the new website it unveiled earlier this year.

In a trading statement published on Thursday, the retailer said it was able to deliver "a good performance" online in the 13 weeks to 29 March, despite its migration from the Amazon web platform to a new site in February.

Total sales for M&S.com during the quarter were up 12.5% year on year, with the company saying it managed the web transition "cautiously" and made the decision to reduce its usual level of marketing activity "in order to ensure a smooth migration".

M&S has struggled to achieve growth in general merchandise sales over the last year, and like-for-like trading in this department for the most recent quarter was down again, at 0.6%. However, in an unusual move, the business separated clothing sales figures – which showed that fashion sales had actually jumped up 0.6% year on year.

Food sales were up 0.1% on a like-for-like basis, contributing to an overall group sales increase of 1.9% – although comparative trading in its key UK market dropped by 0.2%.

Neil Saunders, managing director of industry research firm Conlumino, called M&S's online growth "respectable", but argued that is some way below that of key competitors and the market as a whole, suggesting there is still work M&S can do to improve its multichannel offering.

"Although improvements to the site will continue to bolster this number, future outperformance will rely on wider changes to the proposition," he explained.

"Moreover, although the new website is much better than the previous version we would note some early concerns that it its magazine style can be difficult to navigate and does not always facilitate the quick and easy purchase of products. Nevertheless, M&S has significant potential to grow its online business and we believe this is an area of future success."

A number of other retailers reported trading activity, this week, and one thing they had in common was strong growth in their multichannel and online businesses.

WHSmith

As has been the common story during recent years at stationery and book retailer WHSmith, the six months to 28 February saw the company report a decline in like-for-like sales but increased profitability.

Comparable sales in its Travel and High Street divisions were down 1% and 6% respectively, but various cost-cutting and operational efficiency measures helped total group profit grow 3% to £69 million.

On an eCommerce level, WHSmith said that its online personalised greetings card and gifting website, Funkypigeon.com, continued to grow its profit and performed well over the key Christmas and Valentine's Day seasons.

Traffic from mobile devices to WHSmith websites increased during the period, too, coinciding with the launch of new Apple and Android apps.

On Thursday, Mothercare said that 29% of its sales mix is now multichannel – up from 25% last year – while women's value fashion retailer Bonmarché said on Friday that its like-for-like sales increased by 13.5% for the 13 weeks to 29 March, driven by a 72.8% growth in online trading.

John Lewis said that sales last week were up 9.3% year on year, with the company's online business experiencing a 24.6% increase in trading activity.

Mark Blundell, head of retail change at the department store chain, commented: "Online performance continued apace, delivering sales up 24.6%, with the strength of our omnichannel offer demonstrated by click & collect accounting for over a third of this trade."