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M&S has got to find what fits

By Donald C McFetridge

The full-year results announced yesterday by Marks & Spencer were anything but encouraging and – in some quarters – shareholders were baying for CEO Marc Bolland's blood.

M&S's Press release was headed 'From Transformation to Delivery', but that delivery still looks to be somewhere over the rainbow – and there are clouds on the horizon.

Food, as usual, has been a notable success story, as the food supermarket business world has become increasingly polarised, with top-end offerings from M&S and Waitrose and quality delivery from Lidl and Aldi outshining the Big Four. This looks likely to continue.

Multichannel has increased by almost 23%, but this new service will take some time to settle in.

The downside for M&S is General Merchandise (GM). Ninety per cent of GM is clothing and this has become a huge problem for the company.

Like-for-like sales in GM are down by 1.4% and, in spite of Bolland's promises, this will be difficult to reverse.

It seems incredible to me that a CEO would publicly state to shareholders that he believes he can reverse this trend by adding more leather, silk and cashmere to the range.

Bolland also claims their Leading Ladies advertising campaign has been a great success.

However, the GM trading results would seem to contradict this, as it has singularly failed to lead enough ladies into their fashion aisles.

Belinda Earl, head of fashion at M&S, needs to gain further and deeper understanding of who their core customers are.

Mid-market clothing is a very difficult marketplace, but Lord Wolfson has got his finger on the pulse at Next. Why haven't Belinda and Marc got it right?

In order for M&S to be assured of a place on the High Street of the future, it is imperative that those in the driving seat fasten their seatbelts and expedite what remains of Plan A.

Or, better still, ensure they have a Plan B if all else fails.

I fear that, alas, "Too late, too late, shall be the cry."

  • Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster Business School, University of Ulster

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