A CURSORY glance at Marks and Spencer’s latest figures might give the impression that all is well with this doyen of the high street.
After all, in a hostile retail environment, with countless chains going to the wall, the company founded as a market stall in Leeds nearly 130 years ago has increased sales by 0.6 per cent during the last quarter.
Dig a little deeper, however, and the numbers tell a different story. For the improvement was driven primarily by a jump in food sales, while a slump in sales of clothing meant that the performance of general merchandise fell by 3.8 per cent.
Nor can this be dismissed simply as a blip. Indeed, this is M&S’s seventh consecutive downturn in clothing sales, with all the evidence suggesting that the company is continuing to disappoint on two fronts – failing to attract the younger end of the fashion market while also leaving its traditional customer base unhappy.
In other words, by trying to offer as much variety as possible, M&S has ended up pleasing no one, losing ground to its competitors and putting its position as Britain’s biggest clothing retailer under threat.
M&S’s success on the food front merely hides the fact that, in its traditional strength of clothing and even after several years of confusion, the company still has no idea of just who the M&S customer really is.