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High street giants Marks & Spencer and Debenhams report declining Christmas sales ahead of plans to close dozens of stores

Two high street giants have both reported a dip in sales in the run up to Christmas ahead of plans to close a number of stores.

Struggling retailer Debenhams announced in its latest trading report this morning that like-for-like sales were down by 3.4% in the six weeks to January 5, in what The British Retail Consortium described as the worst festive period for a decade.

The department store blamed a "volatile" trading environment for the decline, claiming customers have been seeking out promotions during their winter shopping.

Debenhams in Ashford
Debenhams in Ashford

It comes as another blow to the firm, which revealed in October it was planning to close 50 stores over the next three to five years, meaning jobs could be at risk in Ashford, Canterbury, Chatham, Folkestone, Gravesend and Westwood Cross.

Chief executive Sergio Bucher said: "We have worked hard to deliver the best possible outcome in very uncertain times for retailers.

"We responded to a significant increase in promotional activity in the market, particularly in key seasonal categories, in order to remain competitive for our customers.

"We have taken decisive steps to maintain rigorous cost and capital discipline and I am grateful to my colleagues for their hard work as we maintain a rapid pace of change.

"In order to ensure that Debenhams has a sustainable and profitable future we need a strong customer proposition, a strengthened balance sheet and a reshaped store portfolio.

"We have a robust plan to deliver this and while there is much work still to do, the performance of our Redesigned stores over peak, and continued outperformance in digital, reinforce our view that we are taking the right steps to protect the future of the business.”

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer also experienced a difficult end of the year in both its Food and Clothing and Home divisions, recording a dip of 2.2% in like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to December 29.

Marks & Spencer in Maidstone. Picture: Bob Kitchin
Marks & Spencer in Maidstone. Picture: Bob Kitchin

Employees across the county have not been given certainty of their future either, as it remains unclear whether shops in Canterbury, Westwood Cross, Ashford, Whitstable, Sittingbourne, Hempstead Valley and Maidstone are among the 100 bosses plan to close over the next four years.

The retailer blamed the decline on a "challenging" November, after noting customers had "responded well" to its Christmas ranges and campaign.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said: “Against the backdrop of well publicised difficult market conditions our performance remained steady across the period.

"Our Food business traded successfully over Christmas as customers responded to improved value. Our transformation programme remains on track.

"The combination of reducing consumer confidence, mild weather, Black Friday, and widespread discounting by our competitors made November a very challenging trading period.

"However, overall our 13-week performance was steady with some early encouraging signs."

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