With Marc Bolland stepping down, can anyone turn around M&S’s faltering clothing business?

Marc Bolland, the new Chief Executive of
Marc Bolland is saying goodbye to M&S (Source: Getty)

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, says Yes.

The M&S clothing business can be fixed, starting with these three moves. First, stock availability has to be improved as this has been an issue since 2012. The firm needs to do more dual-sourcing for quick, repeat sales on strong lines. This would maximise full-price sales, help limit markdown and support margins. Second, the clothing arm must focus more on quality, just as the food business does. There is too much polyester in the stores. The M&S customer demographic willingly pays for quality in food – they would do so in clothes too. This will require short-term margin pain but the long-term payoff would be improved sales and better margins, through lower markdowns – especially if coupled with better availability. Finally, the online offering has to be improved. The website today only focuses on price (the banner is “new lower prices”) and is a turn-off to shoppers looking for a quality product.

Tristan Rogers, chief executive of Concrete, says No.

The negative press about Marc Bolland's tenure at M&S is inevitable. General merchandise sales have declined continuously. But what could he, or indeed anyone, have really done? Is the department store a relevant concept anymore? Show me an example of one that is succeeding at the scale of M&S. Like Waitrose, M&S has done well to “own” the luxury end of the food market. But for general merchandise, the large floor plate and generalist clothing format is out of date. As a public company with conservative shareholders to consider, radical change by any management team would probably be a step too far. But the danger is that the board and shareholders think the saviour of M&S is more online investment. They need to realise that the company’s brand DNA lies in quality and service, and that still has relevance on the high street today. Delivering this in a focused store environment to a well understood customer is what they used to do, but don’t any longer. The management needs to be free to do that again.

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