M&S. The writing’s on the wall

It’s rare that I write a follow-up piece to a blog, but this one seems to be writing itself.  The willful deafness of M&S is a business-failure case study in the making.

Back in July, I wrote a piece about how M&S were committing the cardinal sin of business, which is to ignore the views of their customers.

It clearly touched a nerve, proving to be one of my most popular pieces and receiving dozens of shares and comments.  And all the comments said basically the same thing, which was “This.  Exactly”.

So I sent the piece to M&S CEO Steve Rowe, politely asking him to take heed of the message that he and his team were being sent so very loudly and clearly (and frequently).  He sent me a very polite reply, which read, in its entirety;

“Thank you for your email and for taking the time to write to me.  I have read your blog and note your comments.”

Since then, there have been dozens more articles charting the problems M&S face, and thousands of below-the-line comments from disgruntled customers past and present. In just the last 3 days, there have been almost TWO THOUSAND comments in response to three articles in The Guardian, all of them saying broadly the same things. This morning’s piece attracted 90 comments in an hour and a half. That’s one a minute.

Look at the reviews on M&S’s own website and you’ll find hundreds more nuggets of specific feedback on the problems with their garments, from colour and design to sizing to sleeve length to fabric choice to how they perform in the wash and on and on and on…

But still, the board seems to have their collective hands over their ears, singing “la, la, la, not listening!”

Since July, two Directors have jumped ship and profits continue to fall. Perhaps most tellingly, the Clothing & Beauty Director resigned just a month after taking up her new post (reporting into ex-Halfords director, Jill McDonald, who was appointed despite having no experience of the clothing sector).

Is it a coincidence that both these exiting directors are women? How’s your diversity and equality in the boardroom programme, going, M&S?

Maybe here’s a clue. Their new, £600k p.a. Chairman is the four-home owning, multi-millionaire, ex-Tory MP Archie Norman (63). He’s being touted as the company’s saviour, largely because he led the turnaround of Asda, by introducing their sweatshop clothing range, George. And he’s already making sweeping proclamations about the need to move their focus away from the (apparently geriatric) over 55s, as M&S is “not fashionable enough”.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Just a quick look at the BTL comments highlights the exasperation of their customers, collectively sighing that here’s another wealthy, middle-aged bloke ready to tell ordinary women what they want.

Sadly, it looks like the writing’s on the wall.

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