The Marks & Spencer near my office is incredibly useful. I often go in three times a day. Not, alas, to buy clothes: twice to take a short cut to and from the Tube station and once to buy my lunchtime salad.
Yesterday's announcement didn't come as a surprise, then. Visitors stream like salmon swimming upstream through the Autograph blouses, turn left at Per Una and out on to the high street. No one stops to peruse the floral-print capri pants; no one strokes a mullet-cut summer dress.
In the opinion of this middle-aged, target-audience woman, M&S is offering too much choice. When the womenswear offering was Autograph, Limited Collection and Per Una, we knew where we were, spiritually and physically, in the stores. Now those three ranges have been joined by Classic (oldies), M&S Woman (cheapies) and Indigo (denim, obv.) and the shopper is assaulted at every turn by giant swing tags and special offers. And without designer collaborations (hello, H&M), copies of trends just look a bit tacky. The store is one giant muddle.
Why doesn't M&S refine its offering back down to three coherent areas? Be brave: ditch the cheap embellishments and scary patterns and go utterly plain. By all means keep the safe knits and slacks for the core (for which read older) customer, but add sleek workwear for the middle-aged woman – and something for the entirely neglected young teenager who's not ready (or allowed) to traipse around in crotch-skimming denims or glorified pyjama bottoms. Getting three generations of women into the same shop? Not easy. But something's got to change for M&S to become a destination again.