M&S admits to lagging behind in online showing

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer yesterday admitted that its online performance was being held back by weak service and stock availability, as it poached an executive from rival Next to run its crucial lingerie division.

Speaking at its huge new e-commerce distribution centre in Castle Donington, M&S's finance director, Alan Stewart, said the retail bellwether has "under-invested" in its systems and infrastructure for more than 20 years, in a thinly veiled attack on previous management.

He said: "Overall, we have a slow and expensive supply chain with poor availability and this represents a big opportunity for us."

Marc Bolland, chief executive of M&S, is under pressure to reverse its declining clothing and homewares sales, which fell by 3.8 per cent in its fourth quarter. He sees the new 900,000 sq ft e-commerce facility at Castle Donington in the Midlands, which will eventually be able to process one million items a day, as crucial to its prospects.

M&S said surveys showed only a relatively small proportion of customers ranked it as "excellent" for its online stock availability and delivery service.

Mr Bolland said: "We will be able to give a far better service whilst also giving a far better shopping experience."

M&S delivered a major coup by hiring Jo Jenkins as its director of lingerie and beauty. Ms Jenkins, the product director of womenswear at Next, will fill the role vacated by Janie Schaffer, dubbed the Knicker Queen, who left after just three months at M&S in April. M&S is by far the UK's biggest underwear retailer.

"We are delighted to attract a talented retailer like Jo to our team," said John Dixon, executive director of general merchandise.