Clothing performance has improved at Marks and Spencer in recent weeks, as the retailer battles to revive its sales of women’s wear.

However, analysts questioned whether the uptick would be enough to generate the first increase in sales of clothing from M&S stores open at least a year for two years when it updates on trading next month.

According to industry figures from Kantar Worldpanel, the consumer research group, M&S clothing sales fell 1.9 per cent in the 24 weeks to May 12, compared with a 3 per cent decline in the 24 weeks to April 15.

Market share in clothing fell 28 basis points, compared with a 33bp fall in the previous months.

The performance echoes indications that M&S traded better in May, while recent warm weather will have been helpful to the clothing sector in general, after volatile trading earlier in the season.

Analysts at Nomura, who have a strong record in forecasting developments at M&S, estimated that clothing sales fell 0.7 per cent in the 12 weeks to May 12. This was a “substantial improvement” on the 12 weeks to April 15, when Nomura estimated M&S clothing sales fell 5.2 per cent, and the quarter to March 17, when they were down 2.4 per cent.

“In our view M&S sales improved in May (against easy comparatives), but were not in positive territory in the first six weeks of its current quarter, partly owing to a shift in the timing of Easter from April to March,” said Fraser Ramzan, analyst at Nomura.

But he added in a note: “The month to mid-June has a more difficult comparative and the weather has been unhelpful, suggesting at this point in the quarter that positive like-for-like sales may be difficult to achieve.”

M&S reports its first-quarter trading when it holds its annual meeting on July 9. Any improvement will be a fillip for chief executive Marc Bolland, who has embarked on a plan to revive clothing sales, particularly in women’s wear.

Last month he unveiled M&S’s much anticipated autumn-winter collection, which will be crucial to his turnround plans, along with ongoing investment in the supply chain to shorten the time it takes to get garments to stores and to improve availability of styles.

M&S has pledged to inject more quality and style into ranges and to take women’s wear upmarket. The company said: “We will update the market on first-quarter sales in July.”

In the 24 weeks to May 12, Kantar said Next’s sales rose 2.8 per cent, compared with a 0.6 per cent gain in the preceding 24 weeks. Debenhams’ sales rose 3.8 per cent, against 1.4 per cent in the preceding 24 weeks. However, Zara’s sales growth slowed from 30.7 per cent to 18.9 per cent.

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