Has Marks & Spencer just started a retail revolution?

M&S has handed responsibility for its bricks-and-mortar stores to online chief Laura Wade-Gery, putting them on equal footing with its website.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 08 Dec 2014

As anyone with half an eye on the retail sector can tell you, one of the most enduring debates among retailers over the past few years has been how to balance bricks and clicks – ie. what mix of online and offline should you go for?

Until now, most traditional retailers have continued to focus on their physical presence. Depending on the timing and significance of their investment into online, things have either gone really well (ie. House of Fraser, which is often compared to online-only retailers) or not very well at all (ie. Morrisons, which only launched its first-ever online offering last year).

But now Marks & Spencer has taken the almost unprecedented decision to hand responsibility for its bricks-and-mortar stores to multichannel director Laura Wade-Gery, the woman responsible for a £100m revamp of the company’s website and Tesco’s old online boss. Essentially, this puts the high street business on an equal footing with the online business.

It’s an interesting move, considering the problems high street retailers are having at the moment. M&S may be one of the first to relegate its high street presence to ‘just another sales channel’, but it won’t be the last. This could easily be the beginning of a trend.

The changes to Wade-Gery’s responsibilities are part of a wider boardroom shuffle in which marketing and business development director Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne was handed responsibility for M&S’s international business, while international director Jan Heere stepped down.

The reshuffle has prompted rumours Wade-Gery will be the one to take over the chief executive role, if/when Marc Bolland (who has been in more and more trouble over M&S’ failure to sort out its general merchandise business) puts himself out to pasture.

M&S also took the opportunity to unveil its new ‘promise’ – ‘enhancing lives, every day’, plus four new ‘core values’: ‘inspiration, innovation, integrity and in-touch’. Although its failure to capture the womenswear market suggests it might need to do a bit of work on that last one.

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