Marks & Spencer, along with a number of other stalwart high street brands, has had a tough time recently.

Having been bought up in Marks & Spencer undies and buying that all important first interview suit from the hallowed rails of middle England’s favourite store, I for one have increasingly found M&S to have lost touch with their core audience. It’s not that this audience doesn’t exist anymore, it’s just that its needs and expectations have evolved faster than M&S.

A few weeks back M&S was running a suit promotion that caught my eye, and undaunted, I decided to give them another chance. On entering the suit department, my attention was caught by one of their ranges. Sadly, having spent a while rummaging around, no sign of a pair of trousers in my size.  A helpful assistant offered to check the stock in the store room, and came back with the not entirely unexpected news, that that was all they had. He then directed me to the customer services desk where I could order my size. Things were looking up. The lady on the customer order desk spent 10 minutes searching the Marks & Spencer website, before telling me they were out of stock too. Now this was something I could have done from my own iPad and the comfort of my own home!

She then offered to search for stock at other stores. Another glimmer of hope! Helpfully she identified stock available in both their Chester and Liverpool stores. Since it was a lot to ask me to travel all the way from London to collect my pair of trousers, I asked if they could be transferred to a more local store for collection. The answer was a flat “no”. Could I pay to have them delivered? Again, “no”, OK is there any stock available elsewhere in London? A quick search and a couple of phone calls, revealed stock available at a North London store. Could I pay by telephone to take advantage of the promotion and collect them later in the week? Once again “no”, at this point I gave up and left the store.

Now call me old fashioned, but retailing used to be about buying stock in and selling it through as quickly as possible. Marks & Spencer built their retail brand proposition on outstanding customer service. Once upon a time, the assistance I received might have lived up to this promise, but sadly customer expectations have moved on. Yes, they employ nice people who do their best, but other retailers, that have middle England in their sights and a network of local supermarkets you can collect from, have stolen the customer service mantle, and are enjoying the fruits of their success.

And the moral of this tale; don’t rest on your brand laurels. If a core differentiator of your brand is “customer service”, then you need to constantly re-evaluate whether you can still live up to it, and that it genuinely remains a point of positive differentiation, otherwise, like the dinosaurs, your failure to evolve as fast as your environment, might just become the cause of your demise.

  • Andrew Woodger is data and planning director at The Purple Agency