If you get diverted through the clothing department of the M&S store in Barnsley on your way to buy an egg and cress sandwich for lunch, you get more than a whiff of what it was like to live and shop in the 70s. How many news articles have heralded a 'new beginning' for a store which doesn't get the call of the 21st century? It is like taking your cat to the vets, now with three legs and a tail missing, and having it explained to you that a cart and an iron lung will be a 'new beginning' for little Spot.
Marks & Spencer has said it will accelerate the (latest) overhaul of its store estate, potentially taking on sites vacated by Debenhams, but relocating or closing more than 100 of its 959 stores (615 of which sell food only). If 'overhaul' means to stick a cashmilon pashmina on a shop dummy wearing your Nan's blouse they should take a further, much deeper look at their fading degree of relevance in 2021.
Someone in the group (we want to say ... 'Doreen'?) said: “There has rarely been a better time to acquire new replacement stores on good terms and we are planning 17 new or expanded ‘full-line’ stores over the next two years.” Are you, Doreen? Your plan to become more relevant is to buy some old Debenhams sites, revamp your range yet again, patch yourself up and step once again out of the trenches?
Having already closed 30 stores and announced a juicy £209 million loss, the store said it will look to close another 70 or so 'full-line' versions (pants, socks, mugs, shelving and something your dog would refuse to sleep on) in the next year. Food sales jumped by seven per cent in the last financial year, but with Aldi stealing their caterpillar cake and independents selling nicer sandwiches and more imaginative salads, it can't be long before the middle classes twig.
The company is assuming that in future two-fifths of clothing and home sales will be online, double the level before the pandemic, an assumption about the former bringing a smile to the face of someone from ASOS and their close friend from Net-a-Porter. The accelerated overhaul came as M&S said it expected profits this year to recover to about £300 million to £350 million after a year during which it was battered by the pandemic, though it cautioned that a return to dividend payments was unlikely.
Do you? Oh, bless your little cotton socks, which are not as cheap, durable or good as those you can now buy elsewhere online.