“After a 2014 that was little short of disastrous, the Tesco supertanker was holed below the waterline. Turning it around fully could take years, but the new chief executive has at least begun to staunch some of the losses.
“For UK like-for-like sales to have fallen by 0.3% over the Christmas period seems almost like a victory. Simplified product ranges, and the high profile slashing of the prices of several staple Christmas foods in the “Festive Five” offer played well – leading to the first like-for-like growth in fresh food volume for five years.
“The balance sheet is still weighed down, and there is much more trimming to be done. But the new man at the top has started well and is getting more right than he gets wrong. He is also savvy enough to manage expectations, and is under no illusions that the brand faces a long haul.
“Bloated by years of good living, Tesco is like the army of middle-aged men who this month took out gym memberships. While it can only marvel at the lean physiques of the young upstart discounters, shedding its own flab will be slow and painful; and memories of its youthful vigour will count for nothing. But the Christmas numbers, modest though they are, at least suggest the pain will be worth it.”
“However many luxury mince pies and champagne it shifts, M&S’s food sales cannot mask its increasingly dire clothing sales figures.
“The 40-something customer that M&S seeks to attract is far more fashion conscious than the brand gives them credit for – and the reality is most of them don’t want to be shopping in a store that seems to be catering for ages 40 to 140.
“The improved margin on clothes is a sound long-term aim, but Marks remains a volume retailer and not a boutique. It simply cannot allow sales to fall at the current rate. A 5.3% like-for-like fall in clothing sales is woeful compared to the success of its high street rivals, and unforgivable given the length of time it has been working on a turnaround strategy.”