Retailers Marks and Spencer and Bhs are most likely to benefit once Littlewoods Stores no longer has a presence in the UK high street according to new research.

Market research group TNS FashionTrak says that the closure of the Littlewoods Stores outlets in March 2006 will leave a gap in the 55+ clothing and footwear market that offers potential for several clothing and footwear retailers.  

Littlewoods Stores appeals to the older consumer, with 60 per cent of its turnover coming from items purchased for people aged 55+.

The 55+ market is worth £6.5 billion and other high street retailers providing ranges specifically for this sector include Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Bhs, Matalan and Asda. 

However, TNS FashionTrak's findings show that the two retailers who could potentially make the biggest gains from Littlewoods Stores demise are Marks and Spencer and Bhs - they are the retailers which Littlewoods customers are most likely to shop in when buying clothing and footwear in other stores.

M&S currently takes 17.5 per cent of Littlewoods Stores customers' spend elsewhere in the market, with Bhs taking a further 5.2 per cent; Debenhams is the third biggest competitor taking 4.8 per cent of spend. 

However, fashion chains are also realising the potential at this end of the market as older people are increasingly looking for more fashionable and stylish clothing. 

The sector is becoming increasingly competitive, with several high street clothing multiples who traditionally target younger fashion customers already seeing more sales going through the 55+ age group, including Next and New Look. 

Fiona Bell, Director, TNS FashionTrak, says: "At the 'value' end of the market, Littlewoods customers looking for cheaper items are also shopping in Matalan, Asda and Bon Marche - the latter having the oldest average age of any high street retail chain.  All three could gain from the potential of Littlewoods customers. 

"Although 40 of the current 119 Littlewoods Stores are reported to become Primark stores, Primark's offering is targeted at a younger market looking for cheap fashion items and so the incremental sales from Littlewoods customers looks likely be low. Primark currently takes just 1.5% of Littlewoods customers' spend in the market.

"No doubt several retailers will now be looking to refine and broaden their ranges to try and take advantage of the potential this change in the high street offers over the coming year, and this can only be good for the older customer."