Marks & Spencer’s styles were not in fashion over the crucial Christmas period, and that means chief executive Marc Bolland is under growing pressure to make improvements.

Marks & Spencer’s styles were not in fashion over the crucial Christmas period, and that means chief executive Marc Bolland is under growing pressure to make improvements.

Last week the retailer rushed out its seasonal update early after a partial leak but, unusual as that might have been, the hoo-ha was about the numbers rather than the odd circumstances in which they emerged.

The 3.8% like-for-like decline in general merchandise was worse than many had expected, although not far off some of the most bearish forecasts.

Bolland said M&S resisted the temptation to ramp up promotions over Christmas, so that margins would be protected.

But almost three years into Bolland’s plan to transform M&S into an international, multichannel business, continued weakness in core categories understandably remains the preoccupation of investors.

It seems as if many are willing to give Bolland the allotted time to demonstrate improvements. Initiatives launched by a new general merchandise team, headed by John Dixon and style supremo Belinda Earl, will not be visible in collections until July.

When they are, their reception by shoppers will be a pivotal moment for Bolland’s leadership. That was obvious in comments made by David Cumming, head of equities at Standard Life Investments, an important M&S shareholder, on the Today programme on Monday.

He said: “He has to get his autumn range right, that’s when the management changes that he’s made will have an impact. I think the market will wait to see how that range, which doesn’t really come through until six to nine months, is going to work. If that is poor then he’ll be under a lot of pressure.”

That’s pretty straight talk. Bolland will be given time, but unless there is clear improvement in general merchandise performance he risks reaching his sell-by date at M&S.