Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland is facing an uphill struggle to keep staff, suppliers and customers onside as the retailer looks set to report another drop in sales next week.
Consensus forecasts suggest general merchandise like-for-likes will see a 4.5% decline in the three months to March 30, following a 3.8% decline in the previous quarter.
The results come amid complaints about product quality from both customers and suppliers, while staff morale continues to slump further. Bolland has been in the firing line over much of the criticism.
One former senior staff member told Drapers: “Marc is running out of allies in the business – he is still tampering with things he doesn’t know about, while decisions are still not being made quickly enough. Everyone is so
frustrated, and the troops are finding it a nightmare because it takes forever to sign things off.
“He has put a stake in the ground that the autumn will see things turn around, but they’ll be coming up against very weak like-for-likes from last year – womenswear will be up against drops of 12% or 13% – so if they can’t improve on that they may as well all go home.”
Another ex-employee added: “I don’t think it’s a very happy place to work at the moment. People are just trying to keep their heads down and ride it out in the hope things will start to pick up.
“John [Dixon, executive director of general merchandise] did great things with the food business and I’m confident he can probably do the same with general merchandise in time, but M&S is like an oil tanker and it is near-impossible to stop it moving for long enough to make any real changes.”
A recruitment agent told Drapers that staff morale was “appalling”.
“There is a huge amount of unhappiness,” he said. “Some people are leaving, but if it weren’t for the [relatively high] salaries and packages they get it would be more. The money side only works for so long though.”
As well as staff morale, M&S has come under renewed pressure to resolve issues around product, after customers began using a forum on the retailer’s website to complain about quality.
Suppliers have also raised the alarm, with one saying “improvements haven’t been made”.
Another supplier said: “John Lewis has moved the quality level up and they are reporting growing sales week on week. Why can’t M&S do that as well?”
A source close to the retailer admitted there had been a “general acknowledgment that M&S has been compromised by quality”, but insisted it was being “tackled” for future collections.
A spokeswoman for M&S said: “Our customers should expect to see significant changes to our ranges that echo our long-running commitments to quality, style, value and innovation from the autumn collections onwards.”