Bottom Line: Bolland has until the autumn to do better

RELAUNCHING a retail website is not easy. Behind the flashy new design and faux editorial content that draws shoppers towards key products is layer upon layer of complex infrastructure – payment systems and forms and code and algorithms.

Somewhere in that complex maze of programming, Marks & Spencer tripped up. Before its new site went live in February it had 6m registered shoppers; shoppers who every time they wanted to buy something would only have to enter a password before the rest was done for them.

The new site had to start from scratch, and three months in it’s only back to 2.5m registered users, and an admission that slow online sales are going to hit revenues.

It’s not good enough, but could be considered a blip if the overall group was doing well. It’s not. Marc Bolland has missed key financial targets on international, UK and overall revenues – another miss is unlikely to endear investors to his turnaround plan. But at least this time he’s being straight with them. Gone are the promises of an easy ride; his presentation yesterday was all about “heavy lifting” and not taking the easy way out.

That’s good to hear, but there’s only so long investors – who’ve stuck with Bolland for the past four years and even driven M&S shares higher – will keep buying the promise.

They should give him until the autumn, by all means; long enough to reboot the web traffic and introduce the key winter womenswear collection. But if there’s no signs of a bounce by then, shareholders should get out.

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