It’s been quite a few months for Marks & Spencer.
And after a quiet start, perhaps wanting to wait until the shadow of Sir Stuart Rose had disappeared from over him, Marc Bolland has stepped on the gas, with high-profile appointments like Laura Wade-Gery and last Friday’s announcement of the return to the French market.
We won’t know the success of those measures for a while, but Wednesday’s trading update showed that M&S is weathering the difficult consumer environment better than most, in both food and general merchandise.
In tough markets, it’s easy to panic. But by focusing on what makes M&S’s offer distinctive, on innovation and on good husbandry to keep the impact of inflation on consumers to a minimum, Bolland is doing the right things. When money is short, what consumers look for is value, not just price, and M&S is well-positioned on this score.
It will need to be because, as Bolland identified, consumer confidence is likely to fall further. Like every retailer, expansion through new channels is essential, and that’s why the success of the French venture is going to be so significant for M&S.
Success is not guaranteed. While the M&S brand was well-loved in France, the big question is whether a handful of stores in Paris will support the creation of M&S as a France-wide etailer of scale. Really good marketing, and lots of it, is going to be key if M&S is to create a new identity as an international etailer.
A company in crisis
HMV may have been given two more months to meet its banking covenant tests, but what was most interesting about Tuesday’s profit warning was what wasn’t said. For expected profits to have fallen from “moderately below” £45m on March 1 to £30m this week, trade must have fallen off a cliff.
In fairness, no retailers are finding it easy at the moment. But nevertheless, to be losing market share
at pace in rapidly contracting markets is a recipe for disaster. When Simon Fox stood up at the Retail Week Conference three weeks ago, he was defiant that in five years time, both HMV’s chains would still have hundreds of stores on the high street. The heart wants to believe he’s right. The head is increasingly doubtful.