M&S's make-or-break clothing strategy gets early thumbs-up

Wed May 15, 2013 8:01am EDT
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By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - Fashion media and analysts broadly welcomed Marks & Spencer's (MKS.L: Quote) new clothing strategy and a preview of autumn/winter fashion ranges, giving the firm's boss some respite from pressure over falling sales.

Britain's biggest clothing retailer said on Tuesday it would focus on better quality and styles in womenswear, deliver more compelling and clearer sub-brands, and make shopping easier in stores, as it tries to reverse nearly two years of declining sales.

On Wednesday, shares in the 129-year-old firm, up 20 percent over the past year after periodic bouts of bid speculation, rose up to 4 percent, hitting a five-year high of 438 pence.

However, bookmaker Ladbrokes still made Chief Executive Marc Bolland odds-on at 8/11 to have left his position by the end of the year.

"The changes outlined contained a variety of enhancements based on detailed customer feedback that even the bears will find hard to completely ignore," said analysts at N+1 Singer, arguing that investors should not underestimate the potential from the changes if they gained traction.

M&S will present the autumn/winter ranges to the bulk of Britain's fashion media on Wednesday and Thursday but some key fashion editors have already viewed the ranges and like them.

Lisa Armstrong of The Daily Telegraph called it "the most convincing effort I've seen for a long time," The Times' Laura Craik said "M&S is back in the game," and the Guardian's Jess Cartner-Morley said the collection "could be a high street game changer."

Liz Jones, the influential fashion columnist at the Daily Mail newspaper, had a sneak preview last week and said she was "pleasantly surprised", praising much improved quality.   Continued...

Branding is seen on a branch of Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street, central London, April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning