May 15 - UK retailer Marks and Spencer has unveiled a key new clothing collection and a new strategy. Hayley Platt asks if it will reverse falling sales and ease pressure on CEO Marc Bolland.
The make or break collection. That's the way some see Marks and Spencer's new autumn/winter clothes line. Some say Chief Executive Marc Bolland's job may be on the line if it gets a frosty reception. Ana Santi is from fashion magazine Drapers. SOUNDBITE: Ana Santi, Deputy Editor, Drapers, saying (English): "It's really, really important for them and a lot of expectation has been placed on this collection, on this new team, it's very important for Marc Bolland, the Chief Executive. There was some really strong pieces. I thought the coats were really lovely across all the sub-brands. But it is one season we need to give them a little bit of time." So a thumbs up from the fashion media - and a share price rise of 4% - but there's a long way to go. Clothing sales at M & S have fallen every quarter for almost two years. These designs are part of a new strategy to revamp women's wear and bring it in line with M & S's thriving food business. But more than half the retailer's customers are over 55 and that's a challenge. SOUNDBITE: Ana Santi, Deputy Editor, Drapers, saying (English): "I don't think you can be all things to all people and I think M&S have realised that and when you look at younger consumer that i think they were trying to chase a few seasons ago, I think they've realised that that's not the direction they should be going in. So it's the 30 to 35 plus onwards with a focus on the core customer." Its new strategy includes better quality clothes, made from fabrics like cashmere and leather. It's also reducing the number of lines by 10%, favoring stronger designs instead. Getting that message to customers is key, as is technology. M&S is investing 1 billion pounds over six years in logistics, IT and systems. It hopes a new e-commerce distribution centre will help grow its internet business. But money won't solve anything if the customers don't like what they see.