Express & Star comment: M&S must accelerate plans for change

The general public has considerable affection for Marks & Spencer. It is a staple of our High Street, the retailing equivalent of the ravens who never leave the Tower of London.

A general view of Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street in London
A general view of Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street in London

It provides a sense of reassurance as well as helping to gentify some of our more salubrious towns and cities. There’s a sense that if a town has an M&S, it must be half decent.

However, M&S now finds itself facing down a decline. It is making 7,000 staff redundant during the next three months after Covid-19 revealed the structural problems it faces.

The retailer has failed to keep pace with more business-savvy competitors and has not managed the shift to digital shopping with sufficient success.

Its clothing range is not as popular as once it was, its internal systems are too clunky, it hasn’t got the flexibility or productivity that are required for it to remain competitive. Something has to give and that something is a 10 per cent cut in its workforce.

The business is the latest to accept the irrefutable truth that things will never be the same again. Our shopping habits have changed, people do not feel as safe as they once did, it is easier to buy online and there are those who simply no longer want to visit the High Street.

It is not just individual stores and departments that are changing. Management and administrative staff are equally at risk. The company needs to be more adapatable and people must have transferable skills.

Not all areas of M&S are in trouble: online sales and food sales are expanding almost as quickly as others are contracting. The company has an enviable reputation for quality and there is no danger of it ‘doing a Woolworths’. However, it must accelerate plans for change if it is to emerge in good shape. The status quo is not working. It is time to update and renew both its wider product range and the way that it does business.

The lessons of M&S are familar. There are other High Street traders who were wondering how to make a go of things long before Covid-19 struck. The pandemic has simply hasn’t the power shift from physical to virtual as retaliers realise that the big bucks are to be made online. If it’s happening to M&S, it could happen to anyone.

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