Marks & Spencer’s army of private shareholders will descend on the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday for the usual beanfeast.
It will be the first AGM outing for chairman Robert Swannell. Unlike in past years, when Sir Stuart Rose was frequently a lightning rod for dissent and dispute of one form or another, there seems to be no looming controversy - unless the first-quarter update, which will be released that day, disappoints.
The period covered, to July 2, includes a few days of the retailer’s Sale. Its launch last week, about a fortnight earlier than in 2010, was taken at the time as another sign of hellish high street conditions.
But in the interim another reading of events has emerged, indicating that next week’s numbers may show the retailer at worst chugging along and perhaps cruising fairly comfortably.
Analysts and retailers who nosed around M&S’s Sale last week reported surprise that the volume of discounted stock seemed quite low.
The conclusion some drew was that the Sale’s launch was primarily, as M&S said, because consumers are in
a Sale mindset rather than an urgent need to push stock out.
Certain consumer dynamics at present are likely to play in M&S’s favour. The retailer has previously revealed shoppers’ willingness to trade up, preferring to purchase an item that may cost a little more but has added value, such as embellishment and detail.
The same customer behaviour has been noticed by other retailers - home shopping group N Brown flagged it in Tuesday’s trading update, observing that the obvious inflationary impact on lower-priced lines was depressing demand.
That’s not to say that M&S is likely to find life easy. But the likelihood is that other than for the usual, often eccentric and pettifogging, reasons, Swannell and M&S chief executive Marc Bolland look unlikely to face a roasting next week.