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Editor’s Comment: M&S must pick up the pace or risk being left behind

Archie Norman has already made an impact on Marks & Spencer, proving he plans to be a hands-on chairman.

The former Tory MP brings with him a wealth of retail and business experience, albeit not in the fashion sector. As well as working at management consultancy McKinsey, he has held senior roles at Kingfisher, Asda and Hobbycraft, among others. He has already taken the lead at M&S, dominating the half-year results presentation last week.

In the presentation, Norman highlighted the need for an acceleration in M&S’s strategy. Unfortunately for him – and as he acknowledged – this has become a familiar mantra.

The business certainly needs to pick up the pace of its turnaround. It has outlined an aim to move a third of sales of clothing and home products online in the next five years (up from around 20%). Yet, while competitors experiment with new technologies to improve back-end systems and the customer experience, such as augmented and virtual reality, chatbots and personalisation, there has been no such innovation from M&S. It is increasingly at risk of being left behind. 

Chief executive Steve Rowe has taken steps to stem the decline in clothing sales. Importantly, he has reduced the number of Sales from nine per year to four, and will not take part in Black Friday this year. This was a brave decision, and necessary to protect margins.

However, with the impending departure of clothing and beauty director Jo Jenkins, there is a growing hole in fashion product expertise at senior level within the M&S team. The pressure is on former Halfords boss Jill McDonald, who joined M&S as managing director of clothing and home in October, to build up a strong team of senior directors with the necessary product knowledge and experience to move its fashion sales back into growth.

Norman has come in with a bang and is making the right noises, and he will undoubtedly help M&S to power forward with its turnaround strategy. There is still a lot of good feeling towards the business from loyal customers, but ultimately they will be the ones to decide whether it has done enough to attract their spend.

Readers' comments (1)

  • As a very long term shopper at M&S it is clear to see why the sales are declining. The offer is confused and their core customers cannot find products that were traditionally a staple. Get feedback from customers and improve your market segmentation or all will be lost.

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