Marks & Spencer chairman Archie Norman did not rule out the potential for further store closures at the retailer’s AGM today.
The business is currently undergoing a programme to cull 100 stores as it attempts to reduce the number of large full-range stores, cut the floor space dedicated to fashion and switch the focus to smaller, local food stores that can be used as click and collect points for online orders.
Referring to the challenged high street as a “burning platform”, Norman – a renowned retail turnaround specialist who took over the chairman’s role last year – said: “We don’t have a God-given right to exist and unless we change and develop this company the way we want to, in decades to come there will be no M&S.”
Norman issued a stark warning to assembled shareholders that the business would need to endure short-term pain to rectify the fact that it had not acted soon enough to close under-performing stores and to respond to the shift in consumer behaviour to online.
“We are grasping a nettle that should have been grasped many, many years ago. We have said it’s going to be 100 stores but I can’t tell you that it’s going to end there. We have got to get to the point where we have a modern estate and we have to go through the pain barrier to get there,” he said.
CEO Steve Rowe said the business needed to work harder on its digital operations and improve the performance of its website, which did not stand up in terms of customer experience to its slicker, online competitors. In five years’ time Rowe wants 30% of its clothing sales to come from its online operations and the business has said the business needs to invest further in its technology and infrastructure to support this aim.
M&S has been enjoying some positive PR of late, thanks to England’s strong performance in the World Cup. The retailer is the official outfitter of the national football team and has seen a huge spike in waistcoat sales thanks to manager Gareth Southgate.