M&S chief may have his goose cooked if Christmas turns out to be a turkey
The M&S chief executive is now promising results from the latest infusion of retail talent by next summer. As the second quarter sales figures weren’t quite as dire as some had feared, and the shares have been buoyed in recent months by vague takeover speculation, the City looks minded to give Bolland and his team a little longer to restore the fortunes of the grand old lady of the High Street.
Like other retail bosses, Bolland is cautious on the next couple of months, warning that Christmas trading will be “volatile”, but there are at least some encouraging signs in the ailing clothing operation, and some evidence of a return of confidence for the battered buying team: Bolland proudly reeled off sales figures yesterday for one of this season’s hottest trends, military-style coats, saying M&S has already shifted more than 40,000 of them – and has plenty more in stock.
The food side of the group, as stylish as clothing is frumpy, continues to impress – second quarter sales rose by 1.6 per cent like-for-like, helping to offset the non-food decline.
There have also been some encouraging results from M&S’s huge investment in multichannel retailing. Its new state-of-the-art store in Cheshire Oaks, where shop assistants are armed with iPads and customers enjoy free wifi and touchscreen ordering systems, is turning in sales some 30 per cent ahead of expectations. And, from virtually a standing start, M&S says it now sells more than one in three of its dresses and one in five of its suits online.
All of which adds up to a stay of execution for Bolland. He’ll be allowed to let the new team do their work and may even be given the benefit of the doubt if this Christmas turns out to be another turkey (although he should check the schedules to make sure M&S doesn’t report on the same day as Primark again). It’s pretty clear though that if Bolland fails to produce the goods – and convincingly – by this time next year, his time will finally be up.
Fiona Walsh writes for the Guardian newspaper in London