Last week, M&S launched a closely-watched autumn-winter clothing range to general acclaim, seeing its shares rise four per cent in response. Yet hope for the future will be tempered tomorrow by a closer view of how bad things have been in the recent past, with annual results forecast to show profits flat year-on-year – and 16 per cent down on 2011.
Break the numbers down and things look rather tasty for the M&S food division – but decidedly threadbare for its clothing arm.
That split in the fortunes of the firm is not a new problem, but chief executive Marc Bolland is hoping that the freshly released designs will help turn M&S fashion into a product with some of the cachet of its food products. It was to this end that Belinda Earl was brought in last year, from a successful stint at Jaeger. She has passed her first test with the positive reaction to the new offering.
The task remains formidable. M&S clothing has tarnished its reputation for providing good quality wardrobe staples at a reasonable price. But it can’t recover that ground by being boring. Older women are a key demographic, with a keen eye for quality and price, but they won’t be won back if the clothes make them feel old-fashioned. Part of the genius of M&S food has been to combine reassuring quality and a sense of being up-to-speed on food trends.
The latest fashion collection’s modish feel is therefore not just an attempt to persuade the fickle and fashion-conscious young to flock past the readymade meals aisle and snap up some knitwear. That would be a great boost to revenue, but was always going to be a very hard sell. Instead, the new look is designed to send a message to core M&S clientele: wearing this label doesn’t mean being out of touch.
That’s why teething problems with contactless payments are a bad sign: if M&S can’t introduce the latest payment technology without getting complaints, why should analysts trust its promise to start bringing shoppers the up-to-the-moment clothes they want to buy?
TOO COOL FOR YAHOO
Speaking of trend-tapping, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s chief executive, has snapped up the microblogging platform Tumblr for $1.1bn (£0.7bn). Tumblr is a happening place, but on the web that also means hard to monetise ($13m revenue in 2012), full of porn, and hostile fans (tumblr.com/tagged/yahoo). Mayer has made a brave move, but it’s hard to buy cool off the shelf.