LONDON (Reuters) - British retailer Marks & Spencer launched a clothing sale on Thursday to help clear stock built up in the coronavirus lockdown, tapping into widespread public support for health workers by giving some proceeds to NHS charities.
With Britain having been in lockdown since March 23, the country’s store-based clothing retailers are sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds of spring and summer stock, which they are now looking to unload as the restrictions start to ease.
Last month Primark booked a 284 million pound ($347 million) charge to reflect an expected lower value of stock when its stores reopen.
M&S, Britain’s biggest clothing retailer by sales, said it will donate 10% of the customer purchase price, excluding VAT sales tax, of all sale items to NHS Charities Together, with whom the retailer has an exclusive arrangement.
The charity will use its cut to support staff, volunteers and patients.
National Health Service (NHS) workers have widespread public support in Britain as they try to treat still growing numbers of COVID-19 cases. The disease has killed 33,186 in the UK.
The vast majority of M&S’s in-store clothing business has been closed since the lockdown started. It has only been able to trade a small amount of space adjacent to its food halls, which have remained open. Its online business has also traded through the lockdown.
M&S said the “Rainbow” sale will include all clothing departments - womenswear & lingerie, menswear and kidswear, with at least 50% off all items.
Examples of initial sale items include a women’s jumpsuit for 29 pounds ($35), down from 59 pounds and a shirt dress for 22 pounds, down from 45 pounds.
News of the sale came as M&S also said its long wait for a new clothing boss will end on July 6 when former Tesco executive Richard Price joins the business.
M&S announced Price’s appointment last November, poaching him from Tesco’s F&F Clothing division.
M&S was made to wait as Tesco placed him on “gardening leave” as per the notice period on his contract, but M&S said on Thursday it had secured his “early start date”.
Price succeeds Jill McDonald in the role. She was sacked by CEO Steve Rowe in July, days after he publicly criticised poor clothing availability. Rowe assumed direct leadership of the business himself. He will relinquish that when Price starts.
The clothing business was struggling before the pandemic, with Christmas trading disappointing.
Last month M&S said its planning was based on its clothing and home business enduring subdued trading for the rest of this year. It also warned that its food division had been impacted by fewer people travelling into city centres.
M&S is due to publish 2019-20 results next Wednesday, when it is also expected to update on measures taken to reduce costs and protect cash during the crisis.
Shares in the group were up 0.5% at 1326 GMT, paring 2020 losses to 59.4%.
($1 = 0.8199 pounds)
Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Susan Fenton and Elaine Hardcastle