M&S fashion ops still struggling but profits rise
M&S’s half year results on Wednesday showed a company working hard to turn itself around but one that’s not there yet. It talked about an “accelerated pace of change in the first phase of transformation,” but its group revenue still fell 3.1% to £4.966bn.
However, pre-tax, pre-adjusted items profit was up 2% to £223.5m, and net profit rose 6.1% to £89.8m in the six months to the end of September.
But what we really want to know is what happened its its key Clothing & Home division? Sales there were down 2.7%, hurt by store closures, although like-for-likes dropped ‘only’ 1.1%. In Q1 C&H total sales fell 1.6%, but in Q2 the drop was a worse 3.7%, and its ongoing store closures weren’t the only reason as like-for-likes fell more sharply in Q2 as well. The gross margin was down 20bps as a result of its sale timing.
In C&H, it said its business has an ageing customer base, a very wide range, a weak supply chain and an ageing store portfolio. Despite this, “we retain a very strong customer franchise and market position.”
But at least online clothing sales growth was “ahead of market.” It said its “initial steps to drive digital catch-up and change in culture,” are working, with 20.4% of UK C&H sales now online. Its early steps to improve its website “have helped deliver UK Clothing & Home growth of 9.1% online, with clothing growth ahead of the market, and further improvement seen in recent weeks,” it added. But it also admitted that its website experience is way behind that of its top-performing retail peers.
Overall for fashion, the firm has been reducing the number of options in its offer, "buying more stylish and contemporary product in greater depth,” focusing on “stylish and wearable ‘Must-Have’ essentials and building on our strong customer franchises in denim, lingerie, back-to-school and workwear.” By this strategy, it wants to “shift back towards family-aged customers seeking style, quality and value.”
During the first half it made a start on reducing the number of lines and bought slightly deeper into key categories such as dresses, where sales were up by 3% with strong growth online.
“We also reduced the price of hundreds of everyday lines, including our £15 men's chinos, which generated an increase in sales of 8%,” it said. But it added that “our sales were held back by weakness in areas such as tops and in Kids daywear where range improvement is needed.”
Its marketing meanwhile “has pivoted from group level branding campaigns towards a more effective retail and digital programme.” Its recent Must-Haves campaign together with Holly's Picks, endorsed by new brand ambassador Holly Willoughby, are designed to capture its central themes, and the Love it for Less campaign “underpins the beginnings of our value investment.”
But as the results on the sales front show, there’s more to do and the company sees digital as its main opportunity. As part of its digital-first approach, Jeremy Pee joins its as Chief Digital & Data Officer in December “to lead the turnaround of our data and loyalty programmes and the digital conversion of the business.”
In advance it has launched the ‘Decoded programme’, which involves sending 1,000 staff members on a one-day digital immersion programme and 150 on an 18-month data analytics programme.
“To give M&S the opportunity to access the best of digital innovation and change our culture, we have also established incubation partnerships with Founders Factory and True Capital, partly to provide insight into the sector and partly to expose M&S colleagues to the speed and agility of entrepreneurial management,” it added.
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