M&S: A case study in falling victim to your own success

COVID-19 has simply made more urgent the retailer’s fundamental predicament: people want to buy its food but not its clothes.

by Adam Gale

We wrote recently how this year could be a turning point in the history of the British high street. It would be remarkable if a freak event on the scale of COVID-19 didn’t break many businesses in an industry that had already been struggling for years. 

When the dust has settled, there will be lessons to be drawn from which firms survive and which don’t, whether that’s around degrees of leverage, diversification or other techniques to increase resilience. However you look at it, it will be the weakest that succumb.

Marks and Spencer’s fate will be of particular interest: the high street bastion has had a decade of woes, but is insulated to a large extent from the effects of lockdown by its food business. So while it recently announced 7,000 job cuts - 9 per cent of its workforce - as a result of COVID-19, one would not expect it to disappear entirely. 

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