Mr Bolland said there has been a “gradual improvement” in the performance of M&S’s clothing business. The company “sold through” 80pc of the clothing advertised in its high-profile 'Leading Ladies’ campaign within six weeks.
However, if M&S is to put its clothing arm on a permanently firmer footing, it could still learn lessons from the extraordinary success of its upstart rival Primark.
The discount retailer Primark only arrived in the UK in 1973, 89 years after M&S, but if present trends continue then it will have as many clothing customers as M&S within two years.
The first lesson from Primark is that price really matters.
This sounds obvious, but it is worth restating. Any questions about whether the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh would lower sales for Primark have been comprehensively answered by the latest results from the retailer’s parent company Associated British Foods.
British consumers are still cash-strapped and want a bargain. However, their focus is not necessarily what is the cheapest, but what is the best value for money.
Primark, with its fast fashion focus, has effectively revolutionised the style of discount clothing. Sometimes its T-shirts may only last two washes, but the customers will look good wearing them.
This type of innovation was the hallmark of M&S clothing in its heyday of the 1980s and 1990s – it made seemingly aspirational clothing available to every family in Britain.
The second lesson is that stores must inspire customers.
Primark stores are no longer just a jumble sale. The retailer’s new London store on Tottenham Court Road includes video screens and quirky displays. The shop layout presents Primark’s clothing as if it is far more sophisticated than the price suggests.
Primark, remember, does not sell clothes online, which also demonstrates how important the high street remains.
M&S, on the other hand, has a diverse collection of stores. Its revamped Pantheon store on Oxford...
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