For almost as long as most of us can remember, conference calls with Marks & Spencer have been the same. Among the usual questions about pants and who makes the chief executive’s suits, there’s always been the issue of when M&S would start selling food online in earnest.
Today it took the plunge, adding 100 of what it called “food hall favourites” to an existing offer that had previously been limited to entertaining rather than everyday food and drink.
The symbolic move comes after the high street giant nabbed Laura Wade-Gery from Tesco at the start of the year. She’s the one tasked with meeting Marc Bolland’s target, set last year, of doubling online sales to £1bn by 2014.
The addition of such a limited range certainly won’t transform the online business on its own. And there’s no indication yet of when M&S might start to deliver food. But if today’s decision feels overdue, it’s hard to argue that the umming and ahhing has really cost M&S anything. Certainly Bolland’s former employer, as previously noted in this column, doesn’t feel like it has missed the boat. And it’s hard to find a competitor that’s made real money online.
With Waitrose signalling its intent this week with the opening of its ‘dark store’ in London, the battle is really only just getting started.