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Retail: Marks & Spencer targets India, China, Russia, Middle East and France in overseas expansion drive

12:11 02 April 2014

Marks & Spencer has announced plans to open 250 new overseas stores in the next three years.

Marks & Spencer has announced plans to open 250 new overseas stores in the next three years.

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Marks & Spencer is ramping up its international expansion plans, with a target to open 250 stores over the next three years.

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The group hopes the overseas push will grow international sales by a quarter and profits by 40% as it sets its sights on fast-growing regions such as India, China, Russia and the Middle East, as well as Western Europe, where its plans include 20 standalone food stores in Paris.

M&S revealed details of the global drive at an investor and analyst presentation in the French capital which will become the group’s group’s largest food market outside of the UK.

The ambitious plans come as M&S continues to struggle in its domestic UK market, with trading figures for the final quarter of its financial year next week expected to show another decline in general merchandise (GM) sales.

The beleaguered GM division, which includes fashion and homeware, saw like-for-like sales fall 2.1% over the crucial Christmas season, marking a tenth successive quarterly decline despite concerted attempts to turn around its fortunes with new senior personnel and a marketing push.

Under-pressure boss Marc Bolland is hoping a recent website revamp will help sales bounce back, while the overseas expansion comes as part of plans launched three and a half years ago to transform the retail giant into an international, multi-channel retailer.

He said: “Our strategy of becoming an international, multi-channel retailer is more relevant than ever before because of the strong growth potential of international markets.”

M&S returned to France in 2011 after a decade away and Mr Bolland’s move to grow the retailer’s footprint has seen its overseas store estate increase to 455 from 337 when he took over at the helm in 2010.

As well as the food stores planned for Paris, M&S wants to roll out a food offering in Europe through its franchise partnerships and is expanding dedicated lingerie and beauty shops throughout the Middle East and India − areas offering “great opportunities”, according to Mr Bolland.

It will also open flagship stores in major cities, supporting its “bricks and clicks” approach. However, the group revealed plans to find a local partner to help it tackle the Chinese market, while also refocusing its 15-strong estate in Shanghai on flagship and central stores.

Retail experts at Shore Capital Stockbrokers said: “M&S needs to keep the food, home, beauty, online and international plates spinning whilst demonstrating ongoing progress in core UK ladieswear. Here progress is undoubtedly being made, but it is glacial.”

Analysts expect annual pre-tax profits at M&S to fall to £626m, which will see the 130-year-old company overtaken for the first time by rival Next, which last month announced profits of £695m.

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