Retailer says survey of confidence has delivered most positive score in more than two years
Marks & Spencer said on Tuesday that the latest poll of confidence among its shoppers had delivered its most positive score in more than two years, providing some good news for its embattled chief executive, Marc Bolland.
The high street chain is regarded as a barometer of consumer spending and its authoritative monthly poll involves interviews with 4,000 customers.
M&S’s director of customer insight and loyalty, Steve Bond, said the latest reading for the four weeks to 17 August was 12 points higher than a year ago.
Optimism was riding high, he said, thanks to the feelgood effect of events such as the Olympics, although he cautioned that the poll, launched by Bolland in May 2010, had only ever been conducted in a downturn.
The “most subdued group” in the marketplace remained families battling higher food and fuel prices, added Bond.
In its annual results in May, Bolland blamed the weak economic backdrop for disappointing sales at the retailer and his decision to scale back ambitious growth targets.
Its deteriorating performance has become a source of concern for investors after like-for-like sales of clothing and homewares tumbled nearly 7% in the first quarter – the worst figures in three years.
Last year, Bolland poached Tesco high-flyer Laura Wade-Gery to oversee its e-commerce operation with the job of doubling internet sales to £1bn by 2014.
Speaking for the first time about her role, Wade-Gery said the business was on track to hit the target set for her division.
“M&S is putting more money behind this than I had at Tesco,” she added, signalling M&S’s ambition to become an international multichannel retailer. Wade-Gery spent 14 years at the rival firm, latterly running tesco.com.
M&S is spending £150m building a new platform to replace its existing website, which is run by Amazon, and another £150m on gadgets to encourage increasingly tech-savvy shoppers to spend more time in its stores.
Wade-Gery has already launched a gamut of technology initiatives, including areas described as “digital lounges” in a handful of stores where customers can use iPads to browse fashions not available on the shopfloor. A dedicated e-commerce warehouse will open in Castle Donington, Leicestershire, next year.
The executive said M&S would up the ante in the coming months, with plans to roll out free Wi-Fi to all company-owned clothing stores. She was speaking ahead of the opening of the retailer’s second largest UK store at Cheshire Oaks, Ellesmere. The 14,000 sq m (151,000 sq ft) store is a showcase for the retailer’s latest thinking on store design and boasts a new-look homeware department and giant video screens to showcase products.