Bottom Line: From wardrobe staple to the bargain bin

 
Marc Sidwell
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AS WE wait for the Marks and Spencer Christmas trading figures later this week, expectations are that its fashion sales won’t show much sign of festive cheer. If so, it needs to start the new year with a long, hard look in the mirror.

It is true that general conditions won’t have helped: figures from BDO today show mid-tier retailers saw a 4.6 per cent fall year on year in fashion sales in December 2013. And M&S is certainly not alone in having found Christmas tough: Debenhams started the year with a profit warning and the departure of finance director Simon Herrick.

Yet the longtime stalwart of the nation’s high streets has developed a habit of making a bad showing during the year’s busiest shopping season: this will make its third disappointing Christmas in a row. Meanwhile its rivals are making hay. Next, House of Fraser and John Lewis have all reported strong figures for the period, with Next showing a 12 per cent rise in sales year on year for the 1 November to 24 December period.

No one holds out hope for M&S revealing anything so impressive, partly thanks to the very public price-cutting it committed to ahead of the traditional New Year sales.

The 130-year-old retailer has brilliantly refined and extended its food brand in recent years. Its clothes used to be an invaluable staple in British wardrobe but are failing to fill a niche either as thrifty essential or luxurious treat. Time is running out for Marc Bolland’s makeover.

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