Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is there a future in Marks and Spencer's dreaming?

My parents believed in a few key things: family, arithmetic, the benefits of fresh air, the enduring value of Marks & Spencer.

They would talk about M&S a lot. They praised the things it did right. They averted their eyes from the few things it did poorly in the belief the company should be left to mend its ways in private.

Growing up I absorbed the idea whatever else might change M&S would be here forever. In the last couple of years I've changed my mind.

There are many reasons to raise an eyebrow at the latest instalment of their "Leading Ladies" marketing campaign: from the idea that you spend money on a celebrity photographer like Annie Leibowitz ten years after the end of the era of the celebrity photographer through the painful over-thinking apparent in the casting of the women to the striving for a quality of nobility in the pictures.

But more dismaying than that is the belief that what they need to do is burnish their brand when they should be improving their offer. I was talking to a distinguished magazine editor the other day, somebody who's whole career has been spent in the world of prestige brands, and he said this: "As far as my kids are concerned, brands have had their day. They just want a quality product at the right price."

Last time I went shopping for an item of clothing in Marks and Spencer I went to their biggest store with the actual serial number of the thing I wanted. The assistant tried to be helpful but she couldn't find the thing in stock. The reason she couldn't find it is because she didn't know which sub-brand to look under. That problem was entirely of the company's own making. I left and ordered it on line. It took three days. I don't think you can do business like that any longer.


  1. I wonder if your assistant was one of the two per cent of the workforce which M&S last year boasted were young people on training? Unpaid interns - that'll fix everything, I'm sure.

  2. No. I would guess she was in her forties.

  3. Anonymous11:21 am

    Whose, not who's.

    Anyway, regarding "As far as my kids are concerned, brands have had their day. They just want a quality product at the right price," I think he's talking to the wrong kids. Apple didn't sell millions of iPhones to young people solely on the strength of the products themselves. That piece of fruit on their backsides has an awful lot to do with it.


  4. Elizabeth1:18 pm

    They still don't have a functioning website, a month after they brought it "in house" and re-developed it.

    I think they're now panicking because of lost Mother's Day purchases - the one time of year when lots of us run for the Mum-friendly safe option, only to find M&S are too busy dreaming that brands will save them to make it possible for us to buy stuff.

  5. Interesting point about brands - my eldest (18) was brand-bound for the last few years. But, excepting trainers, he just shrugs a shoulder about them now.

    Youngest soon to be 14, (and his peers and pals) completely indifferent to them too, again - except trainers

  6. I struggle to find anything in an M&S shop these days. I used to rely on them for plain, reasonable quality stuff but the quality has dropped and it's hard to find anything without some awful fashion element tacked onto it. I have to resort to the online site to work out if they even stock that kind of thing anymore - and then you can't tell the quality unless you find it in the shop...

  7. Anonymous9:39 am

    the issue is the product as it was with ITV pre Crozier/Fincham.
    the sub-brand mess doesn't help.
    Like Mercedes in the 90's if you want to use scale paid media you have to pay for it throgh product savings.
    for m&s reality is perception not the other way round.

  8. White shirts, white boxers, black socks - mainstays of the middle-aged man's wardrobe. They're pretty good for all of that. And ready-meals are still nice.

  9. "They just want a quality product at the right price." Which, of course, is what M&S used to offer.

  10. Daveyj7:37 pm

    M & S were given a hard time by the financial press for their prices being too high compared to Primark etc even though they were producing well made items sourced from quality manufacturers. In trying to remedy this they fell between two stools producing shoddiest goods with too much of a fashion element.

  11. I don't think I've ever bought anything from M&S, because I've always perceived their products as being conservative, dull, albeit reliably good quality. Last year on a trip back to the UK I popped in to try get few standard items for work - plain shirts, socks etc. I was disappointed by how shoddy everything seemed. At the same time they seemed desperate to be fashionable and to appeal to the kind of people who who probably go to Top Shop anyway.