In another blow to high street, Marks & Spencer has announced another wave of store closures, putting more than 1,000 jobs at risk.
The struggling high street giant is closing one in three of its main stores – including those that sell clothing, homewares and food under one roof. Earlier this week, it revealed the locations of the next 17 branches to close in coming months.
Sacha Berendji, the M&S retail, operations and property director, stated: “Proposing to close stores is never easy, for our colleagues, customers or the local community, but it is vital for the future of M&S.”
M&S’s decision to retreat from a large amount of UK towns and cities comes as man high streets are struggling with fewer customers, due to the shift in online shopping. The most recent figures available showed the number of shops, pubs and restaurants lying empty soaring in the first six months of 2018.
Despite its problems, M&S, with its broad range of products, is a prized high street name as its stores attract 19.5mn shoppers every week. Local MPs and councillors vowed to try to persuade the company to reverse its decision.
“I’m asking them [M&S] what we can do locally to help change their mind,” stated Thérèse Coffey, a junior minister whose Suffolk Coastal constituency is affected by the closure of the retailer’s Felixstowe branch.
Emma Hardy, the MP for Hull West and Hessle, also tweeted that she was “extremely disappointed” by the decision to close the store in her city and was seeking a meeting with management.
Another affected town was Ashford in Kent, which has been held up as an example of retail regeneration. Graham Galpin, a senior Ashford councillor who helped write the recent government report into the UK’s beleaguered high street, was however more pragmatic: “There is simply too much retail space in the UK, hence we must expect some reductions.”
The store closures, spread over a five-year period, are part of the latest M&S plan to tackle years of falling sales and profits. The cull began in 2017 after the chief executive, Steve Rowe, said he would slash the amount of shopfloor space devoted to M&S’s clothing ranges as sales transferred to its website.
M&S has about 1,000 stores, a figure that includes 300 “main” stores and a large network of Simply Food convenience outlets. About one-third of the first group are said to date from before the second world war. M&S has confirmed the locations of 55 of the 100 affected stores.
The shopworkers’ union Usdaw said M&S’s “piecemeal approach” was extremely distressing for staff. “Today we’ve seen a fourth wave of closures announced, which is devastating news for the staff in those stores and the uncertainty continues for everyone else,” stated Usdaw’s national officer, David Gill.
M&S stated that it had begun a consultation with staff working in the 17 newly identified stores. To date 300 jobs have been lost in the closure programme, with about 80% of staff redeployed by the retailer.
The company has refused to rule out an even bigger store closure plan.