It was all going so well for Marc Bolland. Just three months ago he was celebrating the success of steering high street behemoth M&S into the first rise in profits for years. However, this morning’s statement clearly shows a setback to this revival as like-for-like sales of general merchandising (predominantly clothing) fell by 0.4% in the 13 weeks to 27 June.
There is no easy fix - taking the ubiquitous and transforming it into the unique while maintaining mass appeal
This is in contrast to the food business where like-for-like sales grew by 0.3%, outperforming the market with overall sales up 3.2%.
But food is not the problem child of M&S. The quality, innovation, range and desirability are well known and continue to surprise and delight a broad range of customers – who doesn’t love M&S food?
The problem M&S still faces is getting this same consideration, appreciation and adoration back into clothing and ultimately turning it into footfall. This is no easy fix - taking the ubiquitous and transforming it into the unique while maintaining mass appeal.
In the five years since taking the helm, CEO Marc Bolland has relentlessly invested billions into doing just that and until today it started to look as though it was paying off.
A particularly cold May has been blamed for this recent poor performance with Bolland himself describing the period as "challenging".
But surely it can only be seen as an unfortunate glitch for a business that has revamped every aspect of the mix, from product redesign to store refit and supply chain logistics.
Despite inevitable early website glitches, now the business has better insights into customer shopping habits than ever before
Thinking big and outside of the box has become par for the course – take the hiring of celebrity models David Gandy and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley to lead the charge in underwear, while using infamous Hong Kong-based ‘rag trade brothers’ Neal and Mark Lindsey to revolutionise the way the business buys clothing.
It doesn’t stop there: winning online has been a focus, too, shifting the entire website from an Amazon-backed platform to a bespoke version. Despite inevitable early glitches, now the business has better insights into customer shopping habits than ever before and how better to capitalise on this and reward loyalty than through a new card-based loyalty scheme?
Enter ‘Sparks’, a membership programme rumoured to be launched in the autumn that will reward customers with exclusive benefits and personalised offers, designed to build deeper and stronger relationships.
Time will tell if it will work. The next three months until the half year numbers are announced are going to be crucial as we await with bated breath for the next possibly shaky step on the long road to recovery.