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Marks & Spencer says clothing turnaround "behind schedule"
02 October 2019

Marks & Spencer has told analysts that “progress is behind schedule” for the turnaround of its ailing clothing and home business.

Bosses at the high street giant expressed disappointment that significantly more action needs to take place in its long-suffering clothing and home division to get it back on track, at the company’s capital markets day on Tuesday.

However, shares in the company lifted as analysts were largely positive about the frank assessment of the company, which also highlighted a number of “green shoots” in the digital and food arms.

The company updated investors and brokers on Tuesday over the progress of its transformation programme, which has taken place since the start of the year under the leadership of Steve Rowe.

Rowe told attendees that the company remains focused on “restoring the basics” and will not rush the retailer’s transformation programme.

Analysts said that the company expected it to take until around 2022 or 2023 before the full cultural shift at the firm took shape.

Victoria McKenzie Gould, communications director at M&S, said the company’s special culture had been lost but said it was working hard to restore its store voice.

Rowe said significant work still needs to take place in the retailer’s clothing and home division, stating that hard work in improving products had not been backed up by infrastructure improvements.

He said that the company had suffered particular problems with “planning and stock visibility”, resulting in some empty shelves.

Running out of jeans that were part of a campaign featuring the brand's face Holly Willoughby was cited as one of the reasons behind the recent departure of clothing & home boss Jill McDonald.

The company also said it is overhauling its menswear collections, reducing the proportion of suits in its menswear stock, to reflect contemporary customers. In a bid to convince younger male customers to look at the brand in a new light the company staged a menswear pop-up shop in Soho under the brand, Mike & Tom's (a reference to M&S founders Michael Marks & Thomas Spencer) featuring a contemporary edit of its AW19 offer.

Rowe also said the business would be offering a "buy now, pay later" option on its website but that a service provider had not yet been named. Payments providers, such as Klarna and Clearpay, offer services that allow consumers to pay up to 30 days after purchase or in instalments. They are popular with debt averse Millennial shoppers.

Elsewhere, senior management said M&S would boost its food business through the transformation plan by working to lower costs and modernise its supply chain.

Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital, said: “Everyone knows that M&S is engaged in a major transformation, but it was encouraging to see where management feels more change needs to take place.

There was a sense of optimism among management, but also a recognition that there is a lot more to do. While they highlighted issues in clothing, there were clearly green shoots in digital and in food.”

Shares in the company jumped 2% to 188.2p on Tuesday

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