M&S’s Whitgift future questioned after shift to Purley Way

A bullish £480m expansion plan for one of Britain’s biggest retailers, with ‘the right stores, in the right place, with the right space’, could mean more bad news for Croydon town centre.
By our retailing correspondent, MT WALLETTE

Double jeopardy: Croydon is about to get a second large M&S store. But for how long?

There’s growing concern among customers and sources at the council that Marks and Spencer’s latest expansion plans could eventually see the company abandon its flagship town centre store on North End.

Inside Croydon reported last year how M&S was taking on the retail space on Purley Way that was deserted by John Lewis during the first covid lockdown in 2020.

Remarks made yesterday by the company’s new chief executive, Stuart Machin – “making sure we have the right stores, in the right place, with the right space” – have been interpreted by some to mean that the shift away from Croydon’s town centre store is now a matter of “when”, rather than “if”.

The loss of Marks and Spencer would be a hammer blow to the ageing and run-down Whitgift Centre, where a £1.4billion new Westfield centre has failed to materialise after more than a decade of empty promises.

Machin has recently replaced Steve Rowe as M&S CEO. Rowe famously began his business career working Saturday shifts at the Marks and Spencer store in the Whitgift Centre, alongside his mother who was a full-time employee there. It is fair to assume that Machin won’t have the sentimental attachment to the North End store that his predecessor had.

Machin made his remarks as the company unveiled a £480million investment in its “store rotation programme”, which will see 3,400 jobs being created over the next three to five years. There are 130 new jobs at the Purley Way store, which is expected to open in the first half of 2023.

Sentimental attachment: Croydon-raised Steve Rowe, ex-CEO of M&S

Purley Way is one of eight “full-line” stores – which stock clothes, food and homeware – along with sites in Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds in the next year. The other seven are all relocations, the company confirmed.

Once completed, the changes will see a reduction overall in the number of M&S’s traditional shops, as the firm looks to expand its grocery trade.

“The out-performance of our recently relocated and renewed stores give us the confidence to go faster in our plan,” Machin said.

Last year, M&S announced plans to reduce the number of its “full-line” shops to 180 from 247 by 2028.

“The company had already announced plans to close a large number of shops last October so on a net basis its presence in retail parks and on the High Street will be reduced,” retail analyst Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said.

“Whether it can maintain the momentum as the headwinds provided by rising costs and increased pressures on household budgets continue to bear down on the business is the key test facing management.”

Yesterday’s announcement, Mould said, “…demonstrates physical retail continues to have a role and that Marks & Spencer sees its multi-format stores, with a mix of clothing, homewares and food, as a competitive advantage.

“The push to revamp the store estate also shows it recognises the importance of having sites which are appealing for shoppers to visit and are in the right places to attract healthy footfall.”

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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13 Responses to M&S’s Whitgift future questioned after shift to Purley Way

  1. I loathe going anywhere near the Purley Way. Thank goodness Marks and Spencer is such poor value I shall not be tempted.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Glad to see M and S expanding, even if it means a store on Purley Way, which is a bit of a non-experience, very like going to a US shopping mall on the edge of a city.
    Their design and customer service offer is good, and they deserve to succeed.

    But I really hope they keep the Croydon Town centre store….. after a long shopping gap, I am now going back to M and S , and I want to go there into the heart of town, by bus, or train, not to “edge city” by car.

    If they pull up stumps, it is curtains for the town centre. And I don’t mean M and S curtains.

  3. Ian Bridge says:

    Would anyone actually blame M & S for moving out of the centre?

    • Judith Mary cooper says:

      Croydon whitgift store is very well used, just try getting a seat in the cafe. For those of us who dont drive and use the bus or walk its an invaluable store and I would be very sad to see it go. I don’t like the Purley way, its polluted and horrid to walk or cycle too

  4. John B says:

    Not quite sure I understand the logic of M&S’s move and why they think it would turn out differently for them than it did for John Lewis.

  5. Haydn White says:

    Probably too late to start a consumers list of requirements of what is required to attract potential customers but here’s mine. firstly I dont want to cycle , catch a bus, a tram, or walk . I do want to drive to the location in my car without being ripped off for parking, assaulted by parking persons, revenue cameras or thieves. I want to park in a space that is big enough to open both my car doors . I want a location that has a variety of shops that will supply my wants. Give me that and I will come.

  6. derekthrower says:

    Marks and Spencer is the only major store that now exists in the Whitgift Centre as any form of anchor for visitors. There must be a good chance of this site being closed or rapidly diminished with another major store so close by. Really will be the death knell for major retailing in the centre of Croydon if it does go.

  7. Lorna Campbell says:

    I’ve given up going to Croydon. It’s embarrassing. Filled with lots of cheap, grubby looking shops. M&S is only remainjng quality retailer that is busy on all floors. Croydon looks dirty and the Council plans to cut back on cleaning! Croydon rate payers don’t get value for money. The Labour councillors have ruined Croydon. What happened to the Library in South Norwood? The Councillors need to take a look at Bromley. Maybe they would learn something.

    • The development blight in the town centre was instigated entirely by Gavin Barwell and his Tory chums with the freeholder the Whitgift Foundation. And they were warned about #Wastefield

  8. Anthony Miller says:

    It’s not just the closure of the retailers. The offices above the Whitgift – 3 blocks and a tower – are all now empty too … So much of the local captive office worker trade has gone. I’m scared of the leaking roof. I genuinely fear its going to collapse on someone. It’s such a dystopian ghost town.

    • Most, if not all, of those offices have been vacant since 2012-2013. A decade of lost revenues for the Whitgift Foundation.

      Goodness only knows what state those buildings’ interiors are no in.

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