The repositioning of the food offer worked. Fashion must follow suit.
So the big talking point yet again in retail is the positioning of Marks & Spencer.
While this is not a new topic, I certainly have sympathy for the company and its employees.
Changing the nature of such a giant is not easy and, because of its long history and prominence, the retailer is always in the media limelight. But lest we forget, it’s still a very successful business, with sales of £10bn and profit before tax of more than £700m.
Despite strong competition from the supermarkets, especially Waitrose, the food offer still holds its own with the consumer, with innovations in product and a strong sense of quality.
The Simply Food stores provide a well edited range as people increasingly want the convenience of shopping when travelling to and from work, or top-ups to the weekly shop at the big supermarket.
And, after a slow start on the internet, M&S does now appear to be making headway, with multichannel sales of £560m.
However, it’s the fashion positioning and offer that continues to give cause for concern. Some commentators say that M&S should ‘go back to basics and focus more on the older customer. But what does that really mean?
Where exactly would that put M&S? In the past decade, fashion stores have undergone a revolution. Value at Primark and New Look, affordable and accessible catwalk fashion at Zara and increased competitiveness from Next and Debenhams have raised consumers’ expectations of both the offer and the store environment.
Everyone wants to look and feel 10 years younger. So to argue that M&S should deliberately position itself as a store for older people is nonsense. We visit fashion stores not only for our clothing needs, but also to give our lives some excitement.
That does not come from a store designed for old people. The promise conveyed in a ‘glossy’ advertising campaign needs also to be delivered in-store as the luxury and cosmetic houses do so well, but in today’s market that needs to be achieved by any brand.
There is also a potential issue with the store estate. Twenty years ago, the pitch for most high streets and shopping centres was defined by the location of the M&S store. Other retailers wanted to locate their stores close to M&S.
Today, a number of these other retail outlets have been closed, either because of the chain going out of business or reducing its store estate to meet current economics. As a result, M&S runs the risk of being in a less attractive retail location through no fault of its own.
There is no doubt the general consumer wants M&S to succeed – just look at the amount of commentary on the subject in the media. To do so will require yet more change, and the question is, having been so brave with the repositioning of the food offer, is the company brave enough to do the same with clothing?