Can M&S fashion a future after the lockdown?

Linda J. Dodson

Insiders say he does not want to go back to the “old system”, whereby only 20pc of its clothes are sold online and the website is a peripheral part of the business. Norman aims to weave M&S’s fashion website into the fabric of the company, resembling the workings of online-only rivals Asos and Boohoo. It plans to use its physical stores more to ship out orders.

Clive Black, an analyst at house broker Shore Capital, says: “They have had a lot to handle in terms of keeping the ship steered through these troubled waters, but they have also not wasted time, which normally would be focused upon operations, to say, ‘right, we can absolutely move the gear stick a level or two higher to see through our transformation programme’.”

Rowe will get help from Richard Price, who is joining from Tesco earlier than planned to do the heavy lifting in the clothing division. The first challenge, however, will be to deal with the mountain of unsold summer clothes and shoes.

Norman has hired and fired senior executives at a dizzying rate. Rowe is one of the few survivors. But now, after two and a half years of false starts, M&S seems to have settled on a team to lead its turnaround.

Stuart Machin, a protégé of Norman’s, runs the food business. Insiders have said that he has got the power among the top brass, and if it came to it, between Machin and Rowe, the latter would be gone.

Before the pandemic, M&S earmarked more than 100 branches for closure. It has 1,000 branches and over 80,000 staff, of which almost half were furloughed. It will be forced to reconsider its plans with new social distancing measures in place. About a third of its shops are out-of-town, with more space for customers. Its branches in city centres will suffer from the lack of visitors as public transport remains problematic.

“M&S, along with every other retailer, is talking to their landlords about how they together navigate the future. Landlords will want solvent retailers, alongside Next and Primark, M&S will absolutely be here in the future,” says Black.

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