Could the fashion tide finally be turning for Marks and Spencer who have suffered 15 consecutive quarters of declining sales or is the predicted improvement just a hopeful blip?
Marks and Spencer’s general merchandise performance has been dreadful over the last 4 years. A ferociously hyped new fashion team did little to stem the decline, a relaunched website weakened already poor fashion sales and fulfilment problems at the new DC made a bad situation worse during a mild Autumn. Its retail strategy looked to be failing.
So what has Marc Bolland done in the last quarter to change the seemingly determined path to failure? There hasn’t been any radical strategy shifts or store turnaround plans to be able to point to, but there is a steady hand on the wheel. Could it be that patience has paid out?
The investment and cost cutting plans could just be coming to fruition. After years of underinvestment and basic complacency, the business needed to be overhauled to catch up with its competitors and that is what Bolland has done. It may have taken longer than planned but he has generally been doing all the right things.
We can still point to dull stores once you get past the flagship locations and head to a typical High Street, and we can still see an over proliferation of sub-brands to confuse the customer and ranges that attract the wrong customer, but there are small signs that the business is moving forward.
It might look like M&S has been taking tentative steps, but M&S wouldn’t describe them that way. Changing the direction of a big ship is no easy task. It needs major effort and that effort can be rewarded with only a subtle effect, which is what we believe we are now seeing. But once it starts to move, it is easier to keep it moving.
With an improvement in fashion sales could come the confidence the business lacks to up the pace and start to gain traction with John Lewis and Next which have lured the M&S customer away. The strategy to build margins rather than sales looks to have born the buds of what will become fruit, but it is still Spring and that fruit isn’t ready for picking yet. In the meantime, Bolland and the team can be reassured that they are on steering the ship the right way, they just need to crank up the speed before the market moves too far ahead.
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