As I See It

Time for M&S to launch standalone fashion stores

Terry portrait with tieNames on the CEO’s door may change, but Steve Rowe appears to be facing the same problem as his predecessors at Marks & Spencer: a failure to sell fashionable clothes to young women. So why not do the obvious, and stop trying?

Or at least, stop trying to sell women’s fashion items in the main stores. I’ve suggested on numerous occasions that one answer could be to parcel up the women’s fashion range under one of the company’s brands and launch a network of standalone stores.

It worked for M&S Simply Foods, and this tactic has also worked for other retailers, such as Next which launched Next Home. It also works for those brands that the young do like, such as Ted Baker, Hugo Boss and Mulberry, which have concessions as well as their own stores.

M&S has not helped itself by insisting on promoting its own brands. For a start, there are too many, and customers get confused about which brand is supposed to be for them. The brands have no relevance outside M&S. Therefore, if M&S lacks kudos with the young, so do all its sub-brands. Unlike John Lewis and Debenhams, it does not sell other top brands.

Women’s clothing sales are down by a shocking 8.9% in the first quarter under Mr Rowe. Poor weather, the timing of Easter, a delayed summer sale and a strategic shift to reduce reliance on price promotions are all blamed for the weak figures. As is the Brexit vote, which seems to be the pantomime villain at every show just now.

But poor weather and the switching of the Easter dates are nothing new. It’s time to stop blaming external factors and look closer to home.

A change of pricing policy may help, but this is close to becoming a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. No one on the board or in other positions of influence seems willing to state the obvious. Mr Rowe may be a company man who has seen changes come and go, but even he seems blind to what needs to be done.

M&S’s main high street stores need to sell women’s clothing to the mature customer who wants to look smart and modern, but does not want fashions more popular with twenty-somethings.

It has go back to its roots. That doesn’t mean becoming boring, just making sure it sells what the customer wants.



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