Hennes & mauritz plans to close about 250 stores next year as the coronavirus crisis sends ever more of its customers online.

The worlds second-largest clothing retailer said about a quarter of its more than 5,000 stores would be able to renegotiate or exit leases in 2021, handing the company the chance to close some of them.

The move by the swedish group came as its third-quarter sales fell 16 per cent to skr50.8bn, from a year earlier. about 900 of its stores were closed at the start of the quarter, which ran to the end of august, as governments around the world imposed lockdowns to contain the spread of covid-19.

For the quarter, h&m said profits tumbled to skr1.8bn from skr 3.8bn a year earlier.

The picture improved in september, with sales down 5 per cent from a year earlier. about 166 of its stores remained closed, while many still had limited opening hours, h&m said.

Chief executive helena helmersson, who has led the group since the end of january, said although the challenges are far from over, we believe that the worst is behind us and we are well placed to come out of the crisis stronger.

The groups shares rose nearly 7 per cent in early stockholm trading.