Marks & Spencer has recorded another drop in general merchandise sales as it faced "difficult trading conditions" during the fourth quarter.

The company said today (11 April) that UK general merchandise sales fell 3.8% on a like-for-like basis over the quarter ended 30 March. General merchandise sales fell 2.2% on an overall basis.

The performance came as the retailer said it delivered the strongest quarterly sales growth in the last two years, with total sales rising 3.1%, and up 2.6% in the UK. Total UK like-for-like sales increased 0.6%.

"We are working hard on improving our performance in general merchandise and, despite difficult trading conditions, we made progress in our operational execution," said chief executive Mark Bolland.

"Multi-channel sales growth accelerated and our international business also performed well during the quarter."

The company said that while it held its full-price trading stance for much of the quarter, as promotional activity intensified in March it reacted with selected tactical offers.

"Customers are responding well to better editing of our spring/summer product ranges particularly our recent ‘Perfectly' campaign. The new team has started to deliver operational improvements, with both availability and stock management ahead of last year," the company said.

Commenting on the results, Conlumino analyst Neil Saunders said: "It is, in our view, almost impossible that M&S will ever go back to the pre-1998 heydays when its clothing market share was at its zenith.

"The market has changed too fundamentally since that time and the more fragmented landscape makes it impossible for a player of M&S's configuration to take the share it once did.

"However, that does not mean to say that M&S's market share could not be bigger and it certainly does not mean that M&S should accept recent declines in share as being inevitable. It has the potential to do much better; whether it has the will is another matter."