The retailer’s giveaway sparked fears that it had a stock problem on its hands after a poor Christmas and difficult start to the year.
M&S insisted that the promotion had been done before on a regional basis, that it was emphatically not a stock clearance exercise and it had come out of Christmas clean.
There seems little reason to doubt the M&S version. Apart from anything else, if there really was a need to clear stock there are many other ways to do it than appealing to your own staff to buy at discount. That sounds like a last resort.
Meanwhile, M&S seems to be getting on with business as usual, judging by a couple of other developments in the past few days.
First, it has hired former Evans brand director Frances Russell to become lingerie trading director. Russell is well regarded in the industry and her appointment is an encouraging sign that M&S is determined not to take its foot off the pedal on its core offer, such as its market leading lingerie business.
Secondly, there was the launch of M&S own-brand software – a sign that the retailer continues to stretch its brand and follows hard on the heels of discussions with Sephora about ramping up the cosmetics offer.
M&S is launching software in partnership with Formjet, which has a similar venture with Tesco. When Tesco launched its software, such was the media excitement that you’d think Microsoft was finished. The reaction to M&S has been more mooted, but did send Formjet’s shares up.
The point is that M&S, despite its Christmas disappointment and perhaps more disappointments to come, looks as if it remains focused on its core operations while seeking out new growth routes.
M&S directors and staff may lose out on their bonuses this year, but City executives look safe. About£7 billion is expected to be doled out to bankers and traders over the next few weeks, confounding forecasts that this year’s bonus pot would be disappointing.
A healthy proportion of the cash should find its way into retailer’s tills. Luxury stores should be beneficiaries of City largesse. Maybe some of it will find its way into the businesses that changed hands in the retail deal frenzy of the past few years and which now, saddled with debt and buffeted by tough trading, are looking rocky. Hmm… don’t bank on it.