Marks & Spencer is the UK's biggest non-supermarket retail group, selling a range of food, clothing and home goods under the banner of "luxury for less". Once Europe's most admired retailer, the group has struggled for 20 years with flat or declining performance in its fashion business. After its initial late 1990s downturn, M&S appeared to have rediscovered its direction again by 2002. That turnaround cost the chain much of its presence in Europe and the US, and also the pride, even arrogance, which led to its near-downfall in the first place. But it proved only a short-term fix. Another blip at the end of 2003 brought fresh doubts regarding M&S's strategy. A hostile takeover by retail entrepreneur Philip Green was narrowly defeated, but the progress of recovery has remained unsteady. Although the group appeared to have regained its footing again by 2006, that peak was followed by another gradual decline, especially in the fashion side of the business. M&S remains worryingly susceptible to the effects of downturns in consumer confidence but its biggest weakness is the continuing erosion of its clothing operations. Repeated changes of both management and strategy have so far done little to arrest that slide. As a result, what was once a fashion store that also sold food has gradually evolved into a food retailer that also sells clothes. Temporary store closures during the Covid pandemic only served to accelerate that process. Traditionally, most stores sold a mixture of clothing, foods and home goods, but in recent years the group has adopted a strategy of rolling out food-only stores under the M&S Simply Food brand, including the conversion of existing full-range outlets. Many of the new food stores are located in service stations, operating as joint ventures with Compass or within BP petrol stations. M&S now has around 1,030 UK stores, of which just under 600 are directly owned, but fewer than half of those now sell clothing. All the rest are food-only. For the year to Apr 2021, group revenues slipped to £9.2bn, the lowest level for more than a decade. A net profit of £27.4m in ye 2020 became a net loss of £201.2m. Food accounted for an all-time high of two-thirds of UK revenues and general merchandise for an all-time low of less than quarter, a complete reversal of the proportions from the late 1980s. At the same time, what was once a sizeable international footprint has been largely divested, though the group franchises local operators in a few foreign markets. Despite its growing reliance on food, M&S was very slow into home delivery service. In 2019, it finally took steps to address this shortfall by acquiring 50% of independent grocery delivery service Ocado. Despite the continuing weakness of its fashion business, M&S acquired famed womenswear brand Jaeger in 2021 after it collapsed into administration. Steve Rowe has been CEO of Marks & Spencer since 2016.
Capsule checked 26th May 2021
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Who are the competitors of M&S? Traditionally, Marks & Spencer is classified as a department store. It lost its long-time #1 position by market share in 2015 to John Lewis. For 2017, Verdict estimated market share of 23% behind John Lewis's 25%. Other rivals include Harrods, Selfridges and House of Fraser. See Retailing Sector and Clothing Sector indexes for other companies. Main competitors in clothing include Arcadia Group, Asda George, Next, Primark, Matalan, New Look, River Island, Gap, H&M and French Connection. Competitors in food include Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Asda and Morrisons. See also Retailing Sector index for other companies and brands
Historical profile information for Marks & Spencer
Adbrands Daily Update 8th Nov 2019: "Jump Around". Well we weren't expecting this! Grey London's standalone Christmas campaign for Marks & Spencer's food department was pretty awful: is Paddy "No like-ee no light-ee" McGuinness really the M&S customer's ideal man? But this separate spot for the store's struggling fashion business is an absolute cracker. Little-known independent ODD has really pulled one out of the bag with an upbeat film that might actually get shoppers back into the store. It really feels fun and fresh: something you couldn't honestly have said about any of Marks & Spencer's fashion ads for at least a decade. And mercifully lacking, too, in C-list television personalities! Admittedly, colourful sweaters are an easy sell at Christmas, but on the basis of this fine start, we're genuinely interested to see what ODD might deliver for M&S fashion next year.
Adbrands Daily Update 11th Jul 2019: More troubles at Marks & Spencer. Jill McDonald, managing director of clothing & home for the past two years, has left the company with immediate effect. Responsibility for the long-suffering division will be assumed on an interim basis by group CEO Steve Rowe. A reason for McDonald's departure was not given. However, some media outlets reported that she was asked to leave because of the mishandling of a recent line of jeans promoted by TV personality Holly Willoughby. Despite huge media coverage, insufficient stock was ordered, resulting in what Rowe said this week was "the worst availability I have seen".
Adbrands Daily Update 23rd May 2019: Still no sign of a turnaround yet at troubled Marks & Spencer. Revenues for the year to Mar 2019 slipped by another 3% to £10.4bn. There was an improvement in net bottom line to £37.3m, but that was mostly the result of adjustments. The underlying figure was down by 10%, and there were further worrying declines in like-for-like sales. UK food revenues slipped 2.3% LFL for the year, and 1.5% in the final quarter, partly as a result of the late Easter. Clothing & Home was down 1.6% LFL for the year, and 1.3% in 4Q. CEO Steve Rowe attempted to be optimistic, but acknowledged the weak performance. It's still a case of 'jam tomorrow'. "Whilst there are green shoots," said Rowe, "we have not been consistent in our delivery in a number of areas of the business. M&S is changing faster than at any time in my career - substantial changes across the business to our processes, ranges and operations and this has constrained this year's performance, particularly in Clothing & Home. However, we remain on track with our transformation and are now well on the road to making M&S special again." Yet at the same time, he announced that another 20 stores would close, on top of those already marked for closure. Investors reacted with dismay to the latest developments, sending M&S shares to a 10-year low.
Adbrands Social Media 3rd Apr 2019: "This Is Not Just Food...". A complete change of style here from Grey London for Marks & Spencer's food advertising. M&S has long been famous - even infamous - for its food porn ads from the 2000s. These featured lovingly photographed deliciousness, all oozing sauces and mouth-watering juiciness, accompanied by a fruity voiceover from actress Dervla Kirwan: "This is not just food, this is M&S food..." The style of those ads changed in the 2010s - no more voiceovers, and more arty than sexy - but people still affectionately recall and mimic the original ads. It's become a bit of a middle class British pop cultural meme, so it's a cute idea to recognise that fact in the new campaign.
Adbrands Daily Update 1st Apr 2019: In a daring move, Marks & Spencer appointed independent agency Odd as creative agency for its fashion and homewares business. Grey London will retain the account for M&S foods. It marks a major coup for Odd, which has established a reputation as a specialist in high street apparel accounts. It has worked in the past for both Primark and River Island, and still manages Tesco's F+F clothing brand. Does that create any conflict of interest? Presumably everyone is happy, but this represents a significant challenge for Odd: its first £3.5bn AOR client, and lots of work needed to turn it around.
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