Marks & Spencer delivered better than expected sales figures today amid signs of a revival for its struggling womenswear business.
The retailer said clothing sales rose 0.6% on an underlying basis in the 13 weeks to March 29, driven by "clear signs of improvement" in womenswear following last autumn's relaunch of its M&S Collection.
"Customers are responding well to our refocus on quality and style," M&S said in a trading update.
Across general merchandise, which includes homewares as well as clothing, like-for-like sales were 0.6% lower in the quarter.
It means the company has suffered three years of declines in the division, although today's figure was better than the 1% fall expected in the City.
The company, which has hired new senior personnel and launched a celebrity marketing push in a bid to revive its fashion business, said the improved performance came in the face of high levels of discounting.
"Despite some improvement in consumer confidence, we remain cautious about the outlook. Our focus is on continuing to transform Marks & Spencer into an international, multi-channel retailer," it added,
Marks said its food department had a "great quarter", with the later timing of Easter failing to prevent an 18th quarter in a row of like-for-like growth.
Sales at stores outside Britain jumped 4.7%, aided by strength in India, China and in the Gulf.