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M&S can't skirt issue of clothing

By Donald C McFetridge

Published 10/07/2015

Marks & Spencer posted a drop in quarterly clothing sales
Marks & Spencer posted a drop in quarterly clothing sales

Almost everyone knew that the "suede skirt success story" would never be enough to guarantee Marks & Spencer a safe return to positive trading figures in their clothing division, but we hoped.

However, it appears that we hoped in vain, because this week they reported that sales in their all-important general merchandise division (which is principally comprised of clothing) had once again slumped by 0.4% in the three months to June 27.

This must be a great disappointment to the company, but it was most certainly a much bigger disappointment to me when I heard them - rather lamely - blame the weather for the decline.

It's fairly obvious that summer weather in this country is extremely difficult to predict, but surely there must be some provision for inclement weather in the trading forecasts and sales projections being thrust across the desks of buyers in the M&S clothing division?

It has always struck me as a very poor excuse to use the weather to try to cover up much more fundamental underlying problems in areas such as sourcing, procurement and production.

Marks & Spencer has been struggling with clothing sales for far too long. Even at the end of the Greenbury years, problems were beginning to emerge, so it should hardly come as news to them that they must, of necessity, do something major in order to energise customers into purchasing their fashion lines.

It appears that they have lost sight of who their core customer really is. The 50-year-old female of 1980 is no longer the same person in 2015. You don't need to be a fashionista to understand that the purchasing behaviour of 50-year-old women has changed and their tastes are nothing like what they were 25 years ago.

I recently took a quick look through my wardrobes and could only find one item of M&S clothing (a silk scarf gifted to me about five years ago), yet my larder and refrigerator are full of their food.

It's such a shame that they can't do with clothing what they do so very successfully with food. It's a double shame, because I continue to get fatter by the day eating their food and would struggle to get into any of their average male sizes.

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

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