FOR almost two decades British shoppers and investors have been waiting for Marks & Spencer to turn itself around.

The Sun's business editor Ashley Armstrong gives her verdict after the retailer announced an acceleration of its store closure plans. 

The high street retailer has often been accused of being too slow to spot trends, too expensive or attempting to chase after young shoppers and alienating its core customers.

Marks & Spencer’s new-ish bosses are now determined to give the retailer some of its mojo back.

Stuart Machin, who was promoted to chief executive in May from running the food business, has been focused on sharpening M&S on price and making the business more attractive to family shoppers.

It is still a long way from the destination for many people’s weekly shop, particularly in the cost of living crisis.

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But Machin wants people to buy more than just sandwiches and ready meals.

If he can get them to pop into the stores for a treat and a few everyday essentials M&S will be able to start growing its food volumes, rather than just relying on price increases for a sales boost.

In fashion, M&S knows it will never be as cheap as Primark without also risking a customer backlash if it abandons some of its quality standards.

However, it has now spent £200million lowering prices including making 60 per cent of this season’s jeans under £30 and reducing the price of its basic lace bras from £12 to £10.

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The move should appeal to shoppers on a budget. 

On clothing Katie Bickerstaffe, who holds the four-day week post of deputy chief executive, has become obsessed with how M&S can use its wealth of customer data to make sure it’s selling what shoppers actually want to buy.

After all, the business has never been short of being told by the British public where it is going wrong. 

Ms Bickerstaffe has championed its recent Good Move athleisure range, which it launched in the early days of the pandemic, as evidence that M&S can move fast when it gets its house in order.

The decision to start selling third-party brands two years ago is also attracting newer customers to the business for the first time.

M&S has said explicitly that it would be interested in buying other clothing brands that would fit the business. 

After all, while a shopper might visit the website for a Nobody’s Child dress or pair of Clarks children’s shoes, if M&S can convince them to buy a bra or a bag too, that customer can become much more valuable to M&S.

After years of playing catch up, M&S has finally woken up to the online opportunity, which is where it is now focusing most of its efforts.

It has spent tens of millions of pounds getting its warehouse in Castle Donington in order so it can be more efficient in shipping orders to customer homes. 

It is also making more of its 500 store strong network by introducing speedy click and collect points.

Its digital loyalty Sparks card and slicker app means that M&S is finally behaving a bit more like a modern retailer.

However, to do this M&S is acutely aware it has to tackle its clunky store estate of expensive stores.

Many of these stores are now in high street locations where footfall has plummeted, meaning they are barely making a profit but still paying huge business rates bills.

In 2018, M&S said it wanted to close 100 shops by 2022 as it repositioned its estate to have more food shops and relocate stores to better performing retail parks.

The pandemic interrupted its plans. 

But now M&S has put the future of its shops back on the agenda.

It wants to shut 67  shops within the next three years – effectively one in four of its big stores. 

Insiders say the business is merely accelerating its long held plan.

But the pandemic and rise of online shopping has meant M&S needs to get its house in order faster than ever. 

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In September, M&S announced it was to give thousands of workers their second pay rise this year.

Marks and Spencer has also revealed its menu line up for Christmas – and you can start ordering food now.

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