I’ve been a journalist for… well, more years than I care to own up to. And I’ve been a specifically online fashion-meets-retail journalist since 1999. At that point I seem to remember reporting on M&S and Gap turning in record profits, riding high, expanding fast, could-do-no-wrong etc.
Not long after though it all seemed to go wrong for both businesses. And today? It’s still not going right. Gap’s latest update is just around the corner but M&S has already delivered its news and it’s not good. The turnaround is still, like the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, something of a fairy story.
The evil witch in this version of the story is the weather and the handsome prince hasn’t so much turned into a frog but lost his job.
Yes, CEO Marc Bolland is out and new handsome prince Steve Rowe has picked his coronet out of the bushes.
OK, enough of the metaphors. What actually happened?
- In the 13 weeks to December 26, sales rose 3.7% but comparable sales fell 0.4% as ‘general merchandise’ (GM, or clothing and other non-foods to you and I) dragged down the figures.
- Sales of general merchandise fell 5% in the pre-Christmas period, or 5.8% on a comps basis. Ouch.
- Like Next earlier this week, the company blamed both the wrong weather and stock availability – i.e. too many cold weather items not being snapped up and not enough of the goods that people really wanted to buy being in stock.
- CEO Marc Bolland will stand down on April 2 after six years in the role and Steve Rowe will become CEO.
- Rowe obviously isn’t being blamed for the bad performance despite being a 25-year M&S veteran and having been in charge of the GM unit that has done so badly of late. But then, he’s still new in the job having only been in it since July when he moved across from foods.
Was there any good news? The company held back from discounting so maintained its margins and it continues to increase its equivalent of supermarket operations in the face of a very challenging market (don’t forget golden child John Lewis only this week said its Waitrose supermarket sales dropped pre-Christmas).
And M&S.com delivered a strong performance with continued improvement in traffic. Its distribution centre performed well, dispatching record volumes, and the company successfully launched its new loyalty members club, Sparks, with over 3.3m customers joining since its debut 11 weeks ago.
The international business continued to face a challenging macro-economic environment, particularly across the Middle East franchise region. But sales in its owned businesses improved with strong performance in key markets such as India.
So it’s not all bad and Bolland has obviously achieved something during his time at the top. Chairman Robert Swannell paid tribute, saying he’d led the company through change and “positioned [it] for a digital age, with its own online platform and dedicated e-commerce distribution centre, improved design and sourcing capabilities in general merchandise and an industry-leading track record of growth and innovation in the food business.”