A slump in clothing sales combined with freezing weather across the UK has left Marks & Spencer with its seventh consecutive quarterly fall in fashion revenues.

A slump in clothing sales combined with freezing weather across the UK has left Marks & Spencer with its seventh consecutive quarterly fall in fashion revenues.  

However, with analysts originally predicting up to a 6% fall in general merchandise like-for-likes, the results were more encouraging than some expected. What’s more, food sales tell a different story all together, rising by 4%.

Even though the overall results are not necessarily a triumph, they are not a disaster either. After all, we need to remember that Marc Bolland had originally set out a three-year plan for M&S, and still has some time left to achieve this vision for the company.

However, M&S will need to pay careful attention not just to the quality, but the style of its clothes in order to achieve these objectives and face the competition head-on.  

The company’s commitment to this task is clear: M&S has already appointed a new style director and head of merchandise, and continues to invest in store redesign, technology and ecommerce platforms. As a result, M&S may see these ambitious plans paying off sooner than many might expect.

Food sales are clearly still a big deal for M&S, as its success in this area has overshadowed its efforts to enhance its fashion offering. As such, it’s not surprising that food is becoming an increasing focus for the whole business as it continues to outperform its rivals. It sounds like an international expansion of the food division is on the cards as well.

On the clothing front, M&S will need to maintain focus on developing its brand in order to reconnect with its diverse target audience. Amid mounting pressure to turn its fortunes around, Mr Bolland has drafted in former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl to revitalise womenswear ranges, but in January admitted that the group needed more time to formulate its turnaround plan. In the meantime, analysts at Mintel have said that Next’s sales could overtake M&S’s revenues in clothing this year if the company’s current performance continues.

Management has already expressed its desire to transform M&S from a ‘traditional British retailer’ into an ‘international multichannel retailer’ – and let’s face it, that takes time, even if investors don’t always want to hear that. This strategy has the potential to reverse the ailing fortunesoft M&S and make it a force to be reckoned with in the years ahead.

The latest results certainly seem to suggest that M&S is on the road to recovery. It may be, however, that M&S’s turnaround could be achieved more quickly and effectively without the scrutiny of the public eye.

The remainder of 2013 will be vital for Bolland to prove his strategy is successful. With many changes promised in the pipeline, we are left to wonder what exactly the new M&S will look like in the months and years ahead.

  • Dan Coen, director, Zolfo Cooper