Wednesday 25 May 2016 8:31 am

Mrs M&S: Steve Rowe’s first blunder?


Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

Marks & Spencer's new chief executive Steve Rowe has been on the front foot today, setting out his new strategy of ditching promotions and fashion-focused clothing in favour of cheaper prices and wardrobe staples

It's well needed, given that the retailer announced profits down by almost a fifth today, driven by sluggish clothing sales. 

Under Rowe's new strategy, the customer will be king… or maybe queen. But both analysts, and it seems customers, are sceptical. 

Investors are voting with their feet: M&S' share price is down 8.3 per cent so far today. 

During an interview with Radio 4's Today Programme, Rowe described the core shopper as "Mrs M&S".

"We've got a very clear idea who our customer is – and Mrs M&S, we need to cherish and celebrate her and make sure we're giving her exactly what she needs at the right time."

He might have intended this a sign that the retailer is finally listening to what the customer wants – but it hasn't gone down too well on social media… 


Analysts meanwhile are unconvinced Rowe and the rest of his team even know who "Mrs M&S" might be.

"Although the future focus of the business will be on “the customer”, it is not clear who Steve Rowe thinks “the M&S customer” actually is," said independent analyst Nick Bubb. 

“M&S’s core clothing customers are getting very old. A whole generation of younger shoppers has grown up without worshipping at the altar of St Michael," said John Ibbotson, director of the retail consultancy Retail Vision. 

“For more than four years it’s been losing clothing market share at both ends of the market, to cheap fast fashion masters such as Primark; as well as to the supermarkets, Next, New Look and to the affordable luxury brands. In fact to everyone except BHS."

But not everyone agrees… 

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