M&S: No bed of Roses

MnS.jpgAs the world’s greatest superpower gears up for what is arguably one of the biggest battles in political history, across the Atlantic, we’ve been witnessing a conflict on a significantly smaller battleground: the high street.Two of the UK’s biggest retailers, Marks and Spencer and Primark, both released their interim figures this morning, showing dramatically different results. While M&S sales have dropped by more than a third, Primark has managed to defy the downturn with a 4% rise in sales over the past year.George Weston, chief executive of Associated British Foods (ABF), which owns Primark, responded by immediately gloating to The Times that Primark is ‘taking consumers from all our rivals’. M&S saviour, Sir Stuart Rose, was more cautious during his appearance on this morning’s BBC Breakfast.He said even though profits are down, the company won’t compromise on quality. “Our market share is very, very robust... Our customers are saying they want high standards. In food, we’re sitting at the top of the quality tree – but we do recognise that a few of our customers are saying, look, we’re a bit skint – can you help us?”Rose’s message was clear: while next year might not be the easiest, it may help businesses to do trim down any unnecessary expenditures.“I don’t think you’ll find many businessmen who say 2009 is going to be a fabulous year. We all have to hunker down. [Businesses] have to decide what they can afford to spend and what they can’t afford to spend.”It’s a difficult choice, at the moment – do recession-hit businesses, including Marks and Spencer, take the Aldi strategy, selling their products at rock-bottom prices, or do they take the Stella Artois ‘reassuringly expensive’ approach?Whichever way you decide to go, Rose said businesses are set to face a tough few months. “The whole UK economy is going to have a difficult year,” he warned.

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