Marks & Spencer: boxing clever?

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Marks & Spencer’s share price has fallen today on the back of poorer than expected Christmas trading results – a 0.8% like-for like sales increase in the three months to 26 December 2009. But Sir Stuart Rose, the retailer’s executive chairman, has remained sanguine, arguing the figures compare favourably with rivals such as Next. They do if, as he suggests, you strip out the fact M&S stores remained closed on Boxing Day, while competitors opened their doors to early sale shoppers, and then let the numbers stack up.

But rather than say M&S may have missed a trick by not opening on Boxing Day, Sir Stuart picked his words carefully, stating M&S had chosen to give his staff a holiday. Hooray, but surely staff rotas could have been managed to enable stores to open and capitalise on one of the busiest trading days of the year?

Sir Stuart must have been thinking of his staffs’ higher welfare in the immediate period after Boxing Day too, since when I endeavoured to return unwanted Christmas gifts to my local store on the 28th December, I was told the stores were not dealing with any returns on the 27th or 28th December because the sale was in full swing.

It certainly wasn’t swinging in the morning I visited and there were no queues at the till. Still, the sales assistant remained adamant – my goods could not be exchanged or returned – and pointed to make shift A4 posters plastered around the till area to underscore this fact. But wait, by not opening on Boxing Day and postponing the dates for returns, the figures M&S has just posted do not take into account any refunds either…