Speaking during a lively AGM today (8 July), chairman Robert Swannell promised that the “period of heavy lifting”, which has seen M&S invest £150m in a new website and additional funds in an ecommerce distribution centre, was now coming to an end.
He said M&S is now focused on what “matters most to customers” – in particular womenswear and service – as it looks to turn around 12 consecutive quarters of sales declines in its general merchandise division, which includes clothing and homeware. He added that marketing would be “central” to these plans.
“We are absolutely confident we have made the right investments for the long-term good of the business.
“The transformation is now complete and it is up to delivery. There will be less spinning plates, now we must execute – make our [clothing] collections better and improve food at the same time,” he added.
To do that, M&S will focus on product innovation and “specialness” in its food business, which continues to outperform the market. Swannell said M&S is now a market leader in healthy food, a “new story” for M&S and one that it aims to promote following the launch of its “Healthy Philosophy” campaign as part of its Plan A sustainability programme.
In general merchandise, M&S will continue work to improve the quality and style of womenswear, admitting there is “more to do” on product design and execution. Also speaking at the AGM, chief executive Marc Bolland said M&S is now “in constant touch” with customers and is looking for new ways to go the extra mile to make the shopping experience “personal and special”.
“[Customer-focused] is a nice word but what it means is we want to be in touch, close to people and listen to what they are telling us online, on social media and in-store,” he said.
Swannell said he “takes his hat off to Next” for its consistency over the past 10 years, which he believes is the secret of its success and has made it one of the top 10 performing stocks on the FTSE. He said M&S now needs to ensure it is consistent across the business “step by boring step”.
That is part of the reason why M&S promoted ecommerce boss Laura Wade-Gery to head up its entire retail operation and added international to marketing chief Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne’s remit – so the retailer has “one face on the consumer” and can offer a “very common view” of the M&S brand across the world, added Swannell.
“One of the reasons why Wade-Gery’s role was increased to cover stores and online – all of multichannel. Frankly soon we will be able to stop calling it multichannel. It will just be retail,” he said.