Marks & Spencer has suffered a big fall in annual profits and is to close 100 stores. Like many in the industry, the news came as no surprise to me. Put simply, M&S has been off the mark and lacked its spark for several years – spending too long dealing with legacy problems, instead of looking to the future.
So where does a retailer of this size and scale go from here, in its bid to deliver effective retail transformation?
It seems everyone has an opinion, yet some topics are over-discussed. M&S is one of them. Indeed, there was an entire TV episode (aired last night on Channel 5, Thursday 24 May 9pm) entitled ‘The Trouble With M&S’, dedicated to exploring the retailer’s woes.
M&S CEO Steve Rowe admitted this week that the business has been too “inward looking”. But listening to the hordes of external voices will, ultimately, add little value either. Like a football stadium filled with thousands of ‘managers’ on a matchday who could all do a better job. What M&S needs now are trusted, experienced hands and (finally) real action to transform retail performance – and quickly.
Back in 2016, I urged M&S to refocus its proposition, build on its strengths and offer much a better shopping experience for its customers. For the greater good of British retail, I felt compelled to speak out. That was when Rowe first announced plans to conduct a review into its store estate. Since then, change has been slow arriving – too slow. Maybe not to those working internally, but certainly in the eyes of those who matter most: M&S customers. Two years in modern retail is an eternity.
Change needed, fast.
When so much seemingly needs to change, the challenge ahead can appear both complex and convoluted. Typically, it’s not:
1. Define a clear and effective Recovery Plan
2. Focus on what you want to be known for
3. Provide unified, aligned and expert instore delivery
4. Be clear on how you want customers to shop your stores
5. Support transformation with stability, conviction and clear communication.
Getting the basics right really can and does make a difference. And best of all, many of the foundational pillars of effective transformation available to M&S (and others like it) are, in fact, relatively low cost or no cost ‘quick wins’.
These can deliver visible change in the eyes of customers, employees and shareholders which belie the lack of agility that larger retailers often struggle with – reinvigorating stores in the here and now, and buying crucial time while larger-scale soul searching and restructuring takes place, to secure the longer-term future of the business.
M&S has struggled to excite and entice customers within its stores for some time now. Thankfully, for what it was worth (in terms of goodwill, rather than money in the till), people continually willed it to revive its fortunes. But customers are fast losing faith and patience: just how many people really do believe in M&S anymore?
Time is short. This moment calls for decisive action, and the senior team within M&S will be all too aware of what is at stake.