Wednesday 22 May 2019
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M&S reaches another fork in the road

It must convince women to return and renounce competitors to succeed. M&S market share has been declining since the late 1990s. Its core customers, women, no longer regard it as the primary destination for clothes shopping and unless Marc Bolland’s team can produce a turnaround over the next six months, there is likely to be another change of management disrupting performance again. Maureen Hinton, Director of R&A Verdict Research, explains...


Long gone are the days when M&S was so far ahead of its nearest clothing competitors its market share appeared unassailable (in 1997 it had 16.0% of the womenswear market.) Recent trading only continues a pattern of long term decline. In 2003 it had 12.9% in womenswear and its nearest competitor Next was 6.9 percentage points behind, but by 2012, with 11.2%, M&S was only 4.2% points ahead of Next. Any uplift in 2013 depends on its new team making a significant impact with its Autumn clothing ranges, as promised by Marc Bolland.


There are some indications of changes for the better; the recent press and outdoor advertising campaign is a huge improvement on those of recent years.  Instead of a disparate bunch of ‘celebrities’ we have attractive sophisticated looking women styled to suggest French chic rather than South London suburbia. And the beauty department is a vast improvement on the previous range of pensioners’ favourites.


However M&S has to do more than produce aspirational advertising, and operational efficiencies as it touts in its trading statement; it has to follow it through with irresistible product, displayed enticingly. The Pantheon on Oxford Street is looking better than it has done for years (though with very few female shoppers), but the fabric quality is still a disappointment and when you get out of London to smaller stores it is the usual range of safe styles and dull colours.


Women are the key to its success as they not only buy for themselves and all the family but influence sales across the range of products too. But women of all ages are shopping elsewhere now. Mary Berry, at nearly 80 years old, is not an aberration in buying clothes from Zara. In order to trade the vast amount of space it has profitably M&S has to attract back those shoppers that have deserted it over the past decade, and attract younger women who have never shopped there.


So we have to wait and see if this latest team will lead to a path of renewed growth and M&S can reinvent itself as the clothing market leader based on its sales rather than the amount of space it trades from. But yet another change of management would only disrupt the business further.
If Marc Bolland fails to turn it around, then replacing him with a female chief executive would at least mean having someone in charge that really understands how women tick. Someone stylish, customer centric, with a good track record, for instance Carolyn McCall at Easy Jet, would be an asset as well as fulfilling the aim to get more women in the FTSE100.





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