Good old Marks and Sparks, a place you can trust to get the sort of clothing that your mum would want you to wear and where the quality is never in dispute. Marks and Spencer is so ingrained into the British Psyche that there is a general wellspring of opinion that we would love them to be the retail powerhouse of our memories. Unfortunately, the real gains they have made in the retailing of food have been eroded in non-food, especially clothing sales.
Walk around any large Marks and Spencer and you will be amazed at the range and the quality of the clothing, there really are some great products to pick up for both genders, the problem is that it is so poorly sign-posted, segregated and confusingly over-sub-branded, that you lose the plot. The issue appears less about the selection and buying of ranges, more the way that these ranges are put together and displayed. It is just confusing and difficult to shop.
It all blends into a fuddy duddy looking mess where the clothes more suitable to a younger audience are mixed up with the twin-sets and A-lines. Hence you get the phenomenon where the younger customers are frightened stiff that they will go out to find their elderly aunt wearing the same outfit. Like it or not, we are all rather tribal and define that by what we wear and how we wear it. If you cannot find your tribe then generally you leave and that generation is lost to you. This is where M & S have ended up, and yet they still have some great clothes, at decent prices. The availability and sizing have also been solid, it’s not that you get there and cannot find it, it’s just you waste too much time trying to find it.
The contrast to food hall is palpable; here the range and quality is blossoming, as is the confidence in the operation to offer improved fresh availability across the whole day. I look at their delicatessens now and see a mixture of Waitrose, Sainsbury and the best of old Safeway, exciting and really easy to shop. Merchandising is far simpler in food yet they have delivered a food hall that not only makes sense but has zones where excitement and treats disrupt your journey.
If only they could do this in the non-food arena then they would be a force to be reckoned with again.
Changes in the senior team structure suggest that Rowe is seeking simpler decisions paths that can only improve the way the floor space is used. If he thinks customer journey as they have done in food hall then he will not go too wrong.