James Moore: For many shoppers M&S is an irrelevance

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The Independent Online

Outlook For City scribblers (journalists and analysts), a small army of (ahem) retail shareholders, and for shoppers of a certain age, M&S is big news, a national soap opera.

But for an increasing number of customers it has become an irrelevance. Actually, no, that's not fair. More and more of them (as yesterday's sales figures demonstrate) will happily pick up a panini and a fair trade coffee, and pat themselves of the back for doing so. After all, it's cheaper than Starbucks, and M&S pays its tax. Unfortunately they wouldn't dream of venturing into the clothes department while they're there.

That may remain true even if Belinda Earl comes up with a humdinger of a winter range (and that's still a big if – it's a long time since her Designers at Debenhams days), and the fashion press coos, and they get some star to replace Mylene Klass in the obligatory expensively produced ad. That's because those new threads will still be being sold by M&S.

Face it, for lots of people it's just not the place to go to buy clothes any more. For many more it has never been. This is why sales keep falling. Time to get creative? How about dine in for a tenner and add a jumper for a fiver extra if you'll pop across the shop to get it?

Perhaps not. But what about a demerger, with Marc Bolland taking the wildly successful food biz? He's pretty good at it, after all. Just ask Morrison's shareholders, who have good reason to be pining for his return. Having done that you could hand the clothes over to someone who, well, knows a thing or two about flogging frocks.