M&S unveils new look for stores

Retail giant Marks & Spencer unveiled the central plank of its turnaround strategy as it opened the doors to a new state-of-the-art flagship store.

The Cheshire Oaks store in Ellesmere Port - the firm's second biggest after its London Marble Arch outlet, at 151,000 square feet - is being seen as the showcase for many of boss Marc Bolland's recovery initiatives.

It is the first store featuring all of Mr Bolland's store revamp ideas designed to jumpstart growth after the group recently reported its worst trading performance for three years and first profits fall since 2008.

M&S drafted in Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley - the face of its "shwopping" clothes recycling advertising campaign - to open the Cheshire Oaks outlet.

Alongside debuting the new store look, it also features free customer wi-fi access, in-store online ordering hubs, 70-inch television screens showing the latest styles, assistants with iPads and a brand new beauty department. M&S has also put eco-features at the heart of the store and said it is the "greenest" shop the group has ever built.

If successful, many of the initiatives will be rolled out across the group's wider retail chain. It has already given 150 stores the new-look signage and hopes to revamp its entire estate by the middle of next year.

The Cheshire Oaks store will be watched closely in the industry, with Mr Bolland's turnaround plans seen to be resting on the success of many of the ideas launched at the outlet.

He is putting new technology and "multi-channel" shopping at the centre of his strategy rethink, having lured Tesco rising star Laura Wade-Gery last February to head up its multi-channel and e-commerce offering.

Retail experts at Singer Capital Markets said there was "untapped potential at M&S" if it can deliver the customer-friendly changes shown at Cheshire Oaks, but not all analysts were convinced the new store holds the key to its recovery.

Bethany Hocking, an analyst at Investec Securities, said the Cheshire Oaks store had the "luxury of space" and some of the ideas may not not work at its smaller-format outlets. She said: "Furthermore, some areas (of the new store) were less impressive, such as impersonal M&S woman areas and at times weak in-store signage."