Marks & Spencer remains Europe’s number one clothing retailer thanks to the resilience of British consumers, a new report showed today.
The famous store remained on top despite shutting down its continental operations as the UK sales surge bucked a slowdown across the Channel.
But the report from market analysts Mintel warned that continuing uncertainties in the world economy meant the boom “could all end in tears”.
The transformation in Marks & Spencer’s fortunes has been largely credited to Belgian Luc Vandevelde, appointed two years ago as chief executive.
Mr Vandevelde, who has since stepped down but remains the firm’s chairman, reversed falling profits and changed the company’s conservative image.
It has now begun to win back core customers and attract new ones, the report’s authors said.
Last week it capped its recovery by launching a new children’s clothing range designed by England football captain David Beckham.
Meanwhile, the sale of clothes group Arcadia to Bhs billionaire Philip Green will boost the new combined firm to third in the clothing retailers’ list.
The new figures also show Tesco has overtaken French supermarket Intermarche to become Europe’s second biggest retailer overall.
But another French group, Carrefour, continues to top the list, with sales nearly twice those of the British chain.
Food groups dominate the upper end of the chart, with 13 named in the top 20.
Kingfisher is another UK success story, topping the DIY retailing sector with its B&Q/Castorama stores.
The group operates across 11 countries and is more than twice the size of its German competitor Obi.
Boots is leading the sales of health and beauty products, again despite the fact that it only has outlets in the UK.
The report said that while the last year had seen a downturn in most European economies, Britain was the exception.
“The two extremes were seen in Germany and the UK. If the Germans are ultra cautious, the British are the opposite pole, spending with an abandon which has taken commentators by surprise,” it said.
But the boom had been built on low interest rates which led to large house price rises and greater borrowing.
Spokesman Richard Perks added: “The uncertainties at present are enormous. There is the ever-present threat of attacks on the US or its allies.
“There are the falls of stock markets around the world. The collapse of Enron and Worldcom may have relatively little direct impact on the consumer but the longer term impact is as yet difficult to assess.”