High street retailer Marks and Spencer (LON:MKS) released its Christmas trading update this morning, along with the announcement of veteran Chief Executive Marc Bolland’s departure.

Sales of general merchandise were down by 5.8 percent for the thirteen weeks to 26 December, but the company’s food division had an “excellent quarter” with sales up by 3.7 percent.

Marks and Spencer cited ‘unseasonable conditions’ for its decline in clothing and general merchandise, following the lead of Next who announced similarly disappointing results on Monday. However, online sales grew by 20.9 percent, driven by strong customer traffic.

Marc Bolland, Chief Executive, said: “We continued to prioritise gross margin and held back from the heavy discounting seen across the market in the run up to Christmas. As a result we now expect GM gross margin to be at the top end of the guided range.”

At the same time, Marc Bolland announced plans to retire from the position he has held for the past six years, to be succeeded by Steve Rowe.

Robert Swannell, Marks and Spencer’s Chairman, said in a statement this morning:

“Over the last six years Marc Bolland has led Marks & Spencer through a period of necessary change. Over this time, the company has made significant investment in enhanced infrastructure and capabilities.

“I am delighted that, after the most rigorous succession planning, Marc will be succeeded by Steve Rowe. Steve has a deep knowledge of Marks & Spencer and a proven track record of delivering results in key parts of the business.”

Marks and Spencer are currently trading down 0.64 percent at 435.90 (1026GMT).

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