Marks & Spencer has seen its sales drop over the Christmas period: a time the high-street store can traditionally expect to boost finances into the new year.
Like-for-like sales, which strip out the impact of new stores, were down 2.2% in the 13 weeks to 29 December. Obviously this is bad news for the brand overall, but an extra kick has come from the unexpected 2.1% decline in food sales.
While clothing and furniture have been declining over a much longer period, food has historically been relied upon to keep M&S afloat.
Chief executive Steve Rowe has said that in 2019 M&S plans to focus on more “stylish and wearable items” in clothes, while still delivering on value across the store. But what do customers really want? And what changes will really get people through the checkouts?
Focus On Quality.
Niki McGlynn, 52, from Reading says: “Their women’s clothing used to be reliable – work staples, good quality, good fit work trousers and tops. But lately (the last two or three years) both have taken a dive. The fabrics are often cheap and the quality is poor. I used to buy a lot of Per Una, quirky fun and a bit younger but the same has happened. I can’t remember the last time I looked at their clothes section. Many of my friends are of the same opinion.”
Make Lingerie Great Again.
Jessica Conway, 36, from London says: “I went on a bra hunt in September last year and was really disappointed with the range at M&S. The [Rosie for Autograph] range was not to my taste at all – all floral and pastel colours. I ended up going to House of Fraser and discovering Freya – best bras ever! I think it’s a real shame as M&S always used to be my go-to for big sexy bras. Still buy the odd multipack of knickers, but bras no more!”
Improve The Range Of Food.
Ayaan Shiekh, 25, from London says: “They don’t have a lot of variety in their food. They do have a lot of veggie options, but I would prefer halal meat and they don’t have any of that. I would rather go to somewhere else that does.”
Advertise To Younger People.
Amirah Shiekh, 19, from London says: “It doesn’t have my style. The clothes that you’d find in Misguided or New Look, they don’t have in M&S. And they have much younger models in other shops. I think M&S just sell plain clothing. I don’t think they advertise towards us anyway, I think they advertise towards older women – it’s for mums or it’s school uniform.”
Sort The Sizing Out.
Toni White, 32, from Exeter says: “I’ve always bought from M&S – it’s the first place I go to when I’m looking for something new, especially when I’m looking for a classic piece to enhance my capsule wardrobe. I last bought clothes in M&S just before Christmas when I grabbed myself some gorgeous leggings and skirt. Whoever their lead buyer for young women’s style is killing it right now! But the sizing means I can’t buy many of the pieces because it’s not accurate. I have everything from a size 12 to 16 in jeans and trousers over the years.”
Ask Customers What They Actually Want.
Zuzana Nikovicova, 24, from London says: “I’ve only been in there once, but I didn’t buy anything. I went in to buy something for my mum but I didn’t find anything suitable. All they had were things like shampoos for Christmas presents, but I don’t want to buy my mum a shampoo – she knows how to buy that herself! I think M&S needs to ask people what they want, I think this is the main reason they don’t have customers: they don’t stock products people want.”
Make Prices More Competitive.
Reece Davies, 24, from Sheffield says: “I can’t speak for everyone my age but everyone I know (male and female) would never go into M&S for a piece of clothing. It has a reputation for being somewhere that an older person would shop at. Instead I go online to places like Boohoo or Very. The prices are a fraction to [those] in M&S and get delivered to your door, usually the next day.”
Collaborate With Other (Younger) Brands.
Lynne Robinson, 42, from London says: “I don’t shop lots in M&S but I do shop at their convenience stores (and always spend more than I mean to...). I think the quality is good for the price – I once worked in a chicken factory and M&S had their own quality-controlled area so I do believe in the quality [of the food].
“I also like their shoes, they’re great quality for the price but seem old-fashioned. I think they need to focus on more real leather shoes, or do something like a collaboration? What about a Stella McCartney vegan shoes collaboration?”
Launch Nationwide Food Delivery.
Francesca Carroll, 27, from London says: “It would be quite a logistical challenge but could they do online food delivery à la Ocado? Their food at M&S is excellent and as a coeliac I trust them for things to eat but only being able to buy in store is a bit of a nightmare.”
Make It Easier To Find Your Favourites.
Laura Birrell, 48, from Glasgow, says: “I was in M&S in December before I went on a business trip to New York. I did buy a warm jacket from the Per Una range but I literally walked the store, round and round, trying to see past all the bland clothes to find that item.”
Don’t Try To Be Everything To All People
Emma Gilbey, 30, from London, says: “I practically live in [M&S] but get frustrated at times. Clothes-wise, they do not know who they are marketing at, some of their pieces target those in their mid-twenties and thirties and are so trend led. I have a two-piece from there which every time I have worn so far, a stranger asks me where it is from and cannot believe it when I say ’Sparks. Other pieces in there I wouldn’t even say are targeted to the older generation as they are so ill fitted and bland. I think they are stabbing in the dark and trying to find something that works by trying a bit of everything.”
But What Does The Expert Think?
Martin Newman, a retail expert says: “M&S could and should set up a separate brand just as Tesco has with F&F. They will find it very hard to convince younger consumers to buy into the traditional M&S brand and product proposition. It would also help to ensure that they don’t alienate the core, older customer segment.
“It could be set up as a pure play-online proposition but with some presence in store as well and with a range targeted at younger consumers. It would also enable them to communicate in a more focused way through the right social media and digital channels.”