Do you get the feeling we've been here before with Marks & Sparks?
As you all know, grocery is much more my area expertise than General Merchandise. However, I do occasionally shop at M&S and this is how I see its latest woes.
Their last big recovery was driven by simple shops. They took out loads of rails, gave space back to shoppers and, for the first time that I could remember, they actually had an enjoyable shopping experience. However, over time, rails have come back in and the old habits have come back.
To the casual shopper like me, the stores are incredibly hard to navigate again. And its not just extra rails this time, its stands with bandwagon jumping tat on - how many people will suddenly feel the urge to pick up a tin of Jubilee Shortbread when they're trying to find socks? Could the solution to their current trading issues be as simple as taking rails out and letting the shops breath again? The "if we build it, they will come" school of thought in retailing is long dead, yet M&S seem to have missed the obituary.
With food, the growing importance of the Simply Food c-store format has created a cultural shift in the way M&S approach food - but some habits have died hard. While you can get away with constantly changing the flow of a food hall in a department store, it's a retailing faux pas to do that in convenience where shoppers depend on "muscle memory" to get in and out quickly.
It's the opposite on range though. When Tesco were benchmarking ready meal quality against M&S, the trouble was their constant innovation. That seems to have slowed right down as has the pace on sandwiches, another area when a constant level of change was actually a big draw for regular shoppers who'd otherwise get bored with the same selection week-in week-out and head to other shops in search of newness.
What they have got right with Simply Food though is location and this should them up well for expanding Click & Collect. This should come natural to M&S as one could argue that their "Collect by Car" schemes that they've been running for decades was a forerunner of Click & Collect principles.
The next 12 months will be critical for M&S. Having had a previous slump still in the memory, it is hard to believe that their loyalists will be forgiving for a second time, especially as people like Next have kept their "generation" of customers to almost become more M&S than M&S. Bolland has to get back to basics and quick - who are his customers, how do they want to shop and how can he make the shops simple again.