As Marks & Spencer chief executive Steve Rowe prepares to unveil interim results next Tuesday, he looks back on a torrid start to his tenure.
Job cuts, a row over pay, speculation that stores will be shut – sorry scenarios that take place against the backdrop of the retailer’s fundamental problem of clothing woes.
Rowe is unlikely to have too much good news to deliver on fashion. He signalled as much when M&S last updated in July. Then, clothing and home like-for-likes were in tailspin, down 8.9%.
Many apparel retailers have suffered since. Last month, Kantar Worldpanel reported that the fashion market had suffered its worst decline in seven years.
Over-buying and discounting were partly to blame, as well as product sameness and, as purchase frequency fell, an insufficient understanding of shoppers’ wants.
At least Rowe has acted to begin to address some such issues. He has resisted the urge to discount and his first pledge was to listen much more closely to shoppers.
There will not be many bright sparks in Marks’ results next week, but Rowe is a resilient and determined character with a deeply felt commitment to M&S and the values that made it great.
The scale of the challenge is daunting. But if Dave Lewis can turn around the Tesco oil-tanker, perhaps Rowe can do the same at M&S.
Zero profits from Amazon
Imagine a quoted UK retailer telling the City that it might make no money over the peak Christmas trading period. Zilch. Not a sausage.
An update like that would probably be accompanied by news that, with immediate effect, the services of the chief executive, and probably other members of his team, were no longer required.
But not so with Amazon, which has indicated that operating income in its fourth quarter might come in at as little as $0.
On the other hand, at the opposite end of its guidance range, it could notch up earnings of $1.25bn (£1bn) over the period.
The possibility of zero profits and the vast span between the potential outcomes, shows once again that Amazon, like the past, is another country – and they do things differently there.
The etail Goliath continues to invest what might otherwise be profit in everything from fulfilment, to innovations such as its Alexa virtual assistant, and entry into new categories, as with Amazon Fresh.
There is even speculation that a network of as many as 2,000 grocery stores could be on the cards in the US.
While there was some disappointment on Wall Street following Amazon’s update, its shares fell only 7%. Hardly a crash.
The point about Amazon that other retailers should take notice of is its determination to suck up market share wherever it can.
Its astonishing efficiency and convenience continue to attract shoppers in droves.
And investor confidence that the business will succeed in its long-term objectives is one reason why they treat it differently than they do traditional retailers.
The question in UK retail boardrooms should not be about how Amazon ‘gets away’ with making no money over Christmas, but about how to protect and extend their own market shares.