Marks & Spencer busts out £600m big guns

M&S is wheeling out a £600m arsenal designed to lure the middle class to its shopfloors. This includes mopeds and pasta machines. Whatever happened to austerity?

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Chief executive Marc Bolland has made his feelings felt on the stores he’s inherited from Sir Stuart Rose – saying the shops are difficult to navigate and less than ‘inspiring’. So he’s now going to blow an extra £600m, beyond the £2bn spent by Rose, on kitting out stores with new delicatessens (in the stores for the first time since the 1990s) and clothes stores laden with trendy decor, to jazz it up a bit. That’s a bold move given how every other retailer has gone into austerity mode right now. Yet Bolland is quite happy to stick his mouth where his money’s gone: he reckons the revamp will boost sales by £1bn to £1.5bn over three years.

The new design will be on trial in 16 stores around the UK by mid-October, and it’s all suitably middle-class: taking inspiration from organic farmers' markets, the food halls are all wood and galvanised steel, full of sourdough, fresh pasta and artisans cutting Serrano ham on the bone. It’s also jazzing up its clothing departments with arm chairs, scooters and chandeliers, and promoting a tie-up with Terence Conran to try to encourage more people to use its homes department (clearly its latest run of saucy black-and-white ads of toned young things in their underwear isn't enough to shift sheets on its own).

It may be a gutsy move, but it’s sensible: Bolland’s clearly seen a chance to nail down a market that may otherwise be tempted to downshift to stalwarts like Morrisons, who are providing a lot of fresh produce at more appealing prices. He must have spotted that the middle-class are still happy to spend. Casual clothing catalogue retailer Boden is similarly bullish: it’s revealed a jump in turnover up 15% to £232m, and pre-tax profits up 13% at £32.5m, for the year to the end of December.

The company is hoping to hit sales of £500m in the next few years, doubling in size. Boden makes up to a third of its revenues in the US, launched a French website two weeks ago, and aims to expand further into Europe in 2012.

We wonder whether Boden will follow M&S’ lead in customer services too. Disgruntled shopper Bill Bennett sent M&S customer services a letter complaining for being overcharged for a salmon sandwich and was promised a gift card. When that failed to materialise he jokingly requested he be compensated with a drawing of a ‘smiley dinosaur’. That said sketch duly arrived through the post shows that Bolland really is taking the art of customer experience very seriously.

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