Why M&S Could Sink Or Swim This Summer…
July 26, 2012
By: Kimberley Simpson
I am always fascinated, whenever I visit a Marks & Spencer outlet, at the type of customers to be found there. When hunting the other day for some sensible, sturdy, my-mother-would-approve-of-these black work shoes the other day, I came across the sort of variety of customers that you wouldn’t find in any other store. Two gossiping pensioners passed me, an eight year old nearly tripped me up, and then, and this was the real shocker, I turned a corner into the lingerie department and lo and behold, there were about fifteen twenty-something students like myself ransacking the shelves to find suitable suggestive attire.
Only in one of Britain’s largest department stores could you find such a range of women- oh, and men too, though really they were just in the M&S Food section buying for their barbecues, or ogling at the latest swimwear models dotted on posters around the store. And yet recent sales of M&S goods have been disappointing. Its quarterly figures are the worst they’ve been since 2005, and last month it was overtaken by Next as Britain’s most valuable clothing retailer. I have various theories about their recent failures.
In April, M&S launched that famous television commercial- come on you must have seen it- the one where Twiggy and Mylene Klaas and Gary Barlow are swanning around at a picnic with life all perfection, smiles and sunlight. This obviously led to some customer frustration as rain has fallen incessantly ever since; which means that the average consumer is ravaging the store for a reliable trench coat rather than a nippy bikini.
One of the strengths of M&S is that the models sell the store- and if you draft in Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as the face of your lingerie range that’s fine, great in fact, as millions of young women in this country would kill for her figure, but then perhaps not so great for the forty something mums who every day feel intimidated and alienated by walls of supermodel posters and not having the ‘correct figure’ for the lingerie that Marks are now selling.
Another reason that customers have been disappointed is the sort of clothing being generated from the womenswear section. Where women usually rely on M&S for comfortable basics and practically designed clothes, this summer their new ranges have become a tad catwalk obsessed- with body con dresses and fluorescent trousers galore- the sort of clothing I would search for in Topshop, not my trusty Marks.
Although their swimwear is usually comfortable, and promises to support even the curviest and widest of women, their summer ranges this year have been aimed at a significantly younger customer- with skimpy bikinis in bright prints everywhere. This has had two knock on effects- that the older customers are put off by this younger niche appearing in stores, and that the younger customers will search for more savvy and often more affordable swimwear options elsewhere, in places such as H&M and Zara, who cater to student budgets and look fresh from the catwalk.
M&S needs to do two things to survive this summer. They need to continue to produce the quality clothing that we rely on them for, which includes their work wear, shoes and lingerie; but they also need to remember that they are fighting a losing battle when trying to obtain a newer under 35 audience, and that their priority should be on dressing their millions of current customers, rather than creating new flashy ranges targeted at the choosy market of students and under 25s.