Marks & Spencer, the British high street bellwether, is closing five of its Shanghai stores as it reshapes its Asian business.
The retailer, which has previously identified China as a key overseas market for growth, said it will close five of its stores in Shanghai by August to "ensure it is best aligned with its strategic growth plans".
The company currently has 15 stores in China.
Marks & Spencer said that it will continue to invest in its existing flagship store portfolio and modernise its flagship store on West Nanjing Road in Shanghai as well as having a "firm intent" to enter key Chinese cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou from 2015/2016.
The store closure follows Marks & Spencer’s remarks last April that it will close or relocate a third of its exiting stores in Shanghai while it searches for potential investors.
Marc Bolland, Marks & Spencer chief executive, has said that the retailer could find franchise partners to operate the Chinese stores or agree a wider joint venture with another retailer or investor to fund an expansion. The company said today that it is the "process of evaluating potential partners".
Marks & Spencer has had mixed success in Asia with store sales disappointing internal expectations,but recently enjoying a surge in online sales.
The group said that it would continue its "bricks and clicks" strategy after internet sales increased by 200pc last year thanks to its popularity on Chinese websites such as TMall, a subsidiary of internet giant Alibaba.
Tmall accounts for 50pc of all clothing and footwear purchases made in China, providing international brands with a huge opportunity to reach China’s growing middle classes. Marks & Spencer signed up to TMall in December 2012.
The group also said that it will invest in modernising its Hong Kong stores during this year and roll-out more of its standalone food stores. The retailer said it will open a 1,000 sq metre store in Macau’s Venetian Mall this November.
"Last year, we reaffirmed our commitment to our Greater Chinese business and set out clear strategic plans. Today we can share more details of our continued investment across our priority markets of China, Hong Kong and Macau," said Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Marks & Spencer’s executive director of marketing and international.
"This includes the modernisation of our flagship stores, entering new key cities, growing our Hong Kong Food store portfolio and expanding our reach across China through new sites on TMall.com and JD.com."
It has also emerged that Marks and Spencer’s head of Asia has quit the business to take up a role at fashion brand Diesel.
Bruce Findlay, regional director for Asia, follows the departure of M&S’s head of international business, Jan Heere, last year.
Marks & Spencer opened its first Hong Kong store in May 1988 and its first store in China in 2008. Marks & Spencer currently has over 840 UK stores and over 480 international stores across 59 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.