Struggling UK high-street giant Marks & Spencer looks set to lose its position as Europe's largest clothing retailer to Swedish fashion store H&M, according to a new study by market reasearch group Mintel.

In the period between 1999 and 2003, H&M saw its sales escalate by over 70 per cent. However, neither M&S nor value retailer C&A, which currently holds the number two slot on the market, saw growth.

Mintel said that H&M's rapidly-moving supply lines and successful clothing ranges, including a new ladies' collection created by couture designer Karl Lagerfeld, have led to consistently good sales.
 
It added that the Spanish retail group Inditex, which owns the Zara chain, has also been steadily outperforming the sector over the past five years, again due to good supply lines and number of collections produced per season.

In the 2003/04 period, M&S recorded clothing sales of €5.258 billion, while C&A saw sales of €6bn, and H&M €4.989bn.

Mintel also praised the Espirit and Matalan chains for their sales growth, enabled by flexibility and speed in responding to consumer reactions.

M&S, once an exemplary high-street chain, has suffered from multiple setbacks in recent years, with a string of bad sales results and resignations.