LONDON - Marks & Spencer said on Monday it would invest 200 million pounds ($311 million) in a distribution centre at a new deep-sea container port east of London to help make its supply chain more efficient.
M&S, Britain's biggest clothing retailer which also sells homewares and upmarket foods, is spending 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) over six years to 2015 on logistics, IT and systems, as it seeks to become an international multi-channel retailer - connecting with customers through stores, the Internet and mobile phones.
The firm is replacing more than 100 warehouses it had across Britain in 2009 with three huge distribution centres. The first opened in Bradford, northern England, in 2010 and the second opened in Castle Donington, central England, last month. London Gateway will be the third.
M&S said that locating the new 900,000 square-foot distribution centre at DP World's London Gateway port on the Thames near Stanford-Le-Hope, east of London, would allow it to handle millions of products directly from ships, removing millions of road miles and giving it closer access to key British cities.
"London Gateway will help us become more efficient by cutting costs and locating our supply chain closer to our stores and our international markets," said Chief Executive Marc Bolland.
M&S said its investment would create about 700 jobs and hundreds of additional workers would be employed in the construction phase.
The group is battling to reverse seven straight quarters of falling underlying sales in clothing and homewares.
But M&S shares are up about 33 percent over the past year, pushed higher by periodic bouts of takeover speculation. They hit a five-year high last month after new autumn/winter clothing ranges drew a positive response from analysts and fashion media.
The stock was down 0.4 percent at 451 at 1203 GMT, valuing the business at about 7.3 billion pounds.
Subject to planning, M&S will begin construction of the new facility in 2014. London Gateway port is set to open in the fourth quarter this year.
The port will ultimately allow the world's largest ships to dock just 25 miles from the centre of London.
Photo: London Thamesport from Gillingham over the River Medway estuary.