Thank you for the feedback on these retail spotlight posts, I’m so glad that so many of you are enjoying them. Today it’s Marks & Spencer’s turn, a brand whose focus is on affordability at a time when we’re all thinking hard about it. It’s a retailer I haven’t looked at for a long time so here we go, M&S review – Retailer Spotlight, let’s see what’s been going on there.

M&S – brand background in a nutshell

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Michael Marks launches a market stall selling homewares in Leeds with the slogan ‘don’t ask the price, it’s a penny.’ His business soon takes off and Tom Spencer, a cashier from Dewhirst’s wholesalers joins him and helps fund the expansion of the business with a £300 loan which Michael matches.

Marks & Spencer is born and they launch a series of Penny Bazaar stores as well as continuing to expand their market stalls. You can still see the original one in Grainger Market in Newcastle and if you’re interested in the history, there’s an engaging archive attraction that you can visit at the University of Leeds (details here).


All goods are sold under the St Michael label (remember that?!). St Michael’s continues as the own brand label until 2000 when the company decides to update its in house brand portfolio for a new century (Autograph will go on to be launched in 2000 and Per Una in 2001).


M&S is the first British retailer to make a pre-tax profit of over £1 billion. The years approaching the millennium are seen as the M&S heyday. As with most British retailers we’ve covered in this series, there then follows a struggle to adjust to the new world of online and also the difficult market conditions and change in consumer appetite after the financial crisis of 2008-12.

In 2019 M&S is relegated from the FTSE 100 for the first time. The brand begins its turnaround. Jill McDonald, Clothing, Home and Beauty Director departs to be replaced by Richard Price. Richard is an M&S old timer who left the company in 2012 because he felt it was moving in the wrong direction. Encouraged by its determination to retrench, he leaves his role as CEO of Tesco’s F&F clothing to rejoin M&S as Managing Director for Clothing, Home and Beauty.

What happens next?

Well we all know that Covid hits retailers hard in 2020 and M&S sees its first loss in 96 years. However this is partly because it is already acting upon its ‘Never The Same Again’ turnaround plan which includes a costly store closure programme as the company adapts to the move to online shopping.

In January 2022 M&S is already nudging its annual forecasts up after a strong Christmas season and sales continue to grow. Stuart Machin and Katie Bickerstaffe are appointed as Co Chief Execs, replacing the outgoing Steve Rowe. Machin looks after the day to day running of the business as well as food. Interestingly it is Katie Bickerstaffe (54) who is in charge of digital, clothing and home which is where I think you’d agree we’re seeing some really dramatic improvements. If there’s one thing this retail spotlight is proving it’s the power and insight of the midlife woman – and interestingly she manages to do it all in a four day working week.

In 2023 the turnaround in clothing really begins, partly because M&S is well placed to supply fashion’s current focus on ‘wearability’ with the classic items that it produces so well – such as trench coats and open cotton or linen shirts which are suddenly being sought after by all age groups. However it also alights upon a pricing strategy that works well in a cost of living crisis. For example, the prices of many of its own brand dresses sit between the £29.50 – £39.50 affordability sweetspot. This level of accessibility is quite unique on the UK high street, enabling M&S to be inclusive and appeal to a much wider audience.


M&S was way ahead of most other retailers on the sustainability front when it launched its ‘Plan A’ strategy in 2007. Its sustainability journey has been ongoing ever since and it has a comprehensive set of targets in place. The ultimate goal is to achieve Net Zero business status by 2034 with all third party marketplace suppliers hitting the same place by 2040. You can read about the sustainability measures in full here.

M&S review – retailer spotlight – the lowdown

So let me talk you through my M&S top 10 right now. Obviously there are lots of third party brands available to buy but for this post I’ve concentrated on the M&S own brand labels – Collection, Autograph and Per Una. Bear in mind that the Beauty Advent Calendar is now live on site and if you spend over £35 you can buy it for £45 (value £340) – details here

M&S review – top 10 AW23

1. Party dresses

I’ll be talking more about the dressing up season next week (yes, it’s time) but M&S already have a lot of their sparkly pieces in and there are some great alternatives to sequins such as this dress. It’s also available in gold but I particularly love the blue. It looks as though it has figure balancing shoulder pads as well as flattering ruching at the midriff; it’s stretchy and washable too so it’s easy to wear. Most importantly perhaps, the price is hard to believe. It’s new in and I suspect it will sell out fast.

2. Gauzy dress with metallic polka dots

If you prefer something a little less figure hugging you have a Hush look here but at an M&S price. It has semi-sheer sleeves for anyone who prefers to disguise their arms, a gentle shirred waist and plenty of movement without being too voluminous.

3. Elevated everyday dress

You know I have a fondness for cosy cord dresses. In its winter green, this one’s not just for Christmas but it would feel on point then too. You could dress it up with heels or down with flat boots. It’s made from 100% BCI cotton and it’s also available in black.

4. Short faux fur jacket

This is selling quickly but I wanted to show it to you because it isn’t often you find a jacket like this in a rich chocolate colour. Perfect for wearing with dresses, skirts or wide leg trousers, it has five star reviews and is also available in cream.

5. Simple funnel neck cosy top

M&S have really invested in the trend for chocolate brown, there are jumpers and satin skirts, wide leg trousers and this simple cosy top with a funnel neck that flatters but doesn’t touch your neck. It would look just as good worn with black or blue denim and it’s also available in ivory if brown’s not your colour.

6. Easy cords

Brown again, I know, but it’s just so refreshing to see, however these trousers also come in navy, black or pine green. These wide leg cords have an elasticated panel at the small of your back for a comfortable fit. Bear in mind that they’re ankle grazers so if you want them to be full length you’ll need to order a longer option.

7. Chic athleisure

Don’t disregard these trousers just because I’m calling them athleisure. They’re great for smart casual and with the piped crease at the front they won’t go baggy at the knees. Available in black, navy, ecru or chocolate (yay!) you’re getting a ME+Em look at an M&S price.

8. Parisian style boots

I’m talking texture again here, the mock croc finish and the high patent shine will make a real difference to simple outfits. I have a few pairs of boots like this in my collection and they never date. They’ve also just been restocked in a faux snakeskin finish which completely sold out first time around so be quick if you like them.

9. Silver boots (again!)

Yes we’ve already discussed silver boots as being the outfit updater of the season but these are the best value I’ve found yet. Plus of course they have the Insolia technology built in so they’ll be comfortable if you’re on your feet for a while.

10. A textured outfit update

Such an easy and affordable way to add a touch of shearling to your look without the worry of overheating. The guitar strap will break up your outfit with a contemporary touch of extra detail too.

It’s been fascinating for me to put this ‘M&S review – retailer spotlight’ post together. It’s a brand I hadn’t looked at for ages and I can see that change is clearly afoot. It’s going to be interesting to watch the next couple of seasons play out as Katie Bickerstaffe really drives her fashion team forwards; she describes her management style as being ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove’ which is an approach I think works well for a lot of midlife women with brand transformation experience under their belt. I suspect we all have our fingers crossed for M&S and hope to see the turnaround continue to succeed.

Disclosure: M&S review – retailer spotlight’ was commissioned by M&S but all opinions are my own

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    Disclosure: as with the majority of blogs, products featured on Midlifechic sometimes (but not always) include affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase, you are helping to support the site because a small referral commission may be paid. This contributes towards hosting fees, software costs, site maintenance and other plug-ins. Midlifechic could not exist without these small payments, so every contribution makes a big difference.