Why Are Marks and Spencer Struggling?

Marks and Spencer is a British institution with a presence on most high streets and yet its fashion sales are in the doldrums. There have been several attempts to revive the retailer’s fortunes but these efforts have not yielded great results as yet. So what is it that stands between M&S and success?

Price and Brand

These days fashion retailing is overwhelmingly about two things – brand strength and price. You’ve simply got to be either cool or cheap to succeed and sadly Marks and Spencer are neither. They are certainly not competing with the low cost offerings of the discount stores like Primark. OK the quality is better at M&S but that is irrelevant if you don’t have the money and Primark are rather good at bringing their interpretations of catwalk styles to market quickly.

The Same but Different

As for being cool well it is possible to find virtually identical styles at M&S to those offered by the favourite haunts of youngsters. For them it is all about Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch and Superdry. M&S have the checked shirts, hoodies and other casual clothes at cheaper prices but youngsters are extremely brand conscious and would not want a hoodie with Marks and Spencer emblazoned across the front of it. No matter that the base item is the same, it isn’t from Hollister and M&S have not created the same sense of cool around their operation.

No Target Market

The M&S product range is also rather diluted by diversity. You know what you are getting with the big brands and popular high street stores but Marks and Spencer is a hotchpotch of youthful styles, business wear, fashion for thirty somethings and staid styles for their older clientele. There is no defined identity here, no target market to aim at and these are big issues. The retailer has tried to overcome the problems by creating more defined areas in their stores for each of their sub-ranges but somehow it just doesn’t work. They are trying to be all things to all people and that just isn’t possible.

Which Direction?

Marks and Spencer need to decide what area of the market they wish to occupy and to go all out to satisfy that. It would be an act of brilliance to convert young people to their cause and so they are probably best avoiding that area of business. There isn’t much money in fashion for the elderly and so they should probably settle for the middle ground and aim themselves squarely at the thirty somethings and those who wish they still were!

There is a market to be exploited here but they are going to have to make their proposition more appealing. There is so much competition out there that they may already have lost too much ground. Whether it is cocktail dresses for women or knitwear for the guys there is someone else selling a great product and the M&S offering must be equally as stylish and better value or they won’t make much headway. Even more importantly they must change their image. It is not only the young who are brand conscious and somehow M&S have got to turn themselves into a label that people are proud to admit they are wearing. I wouldn’t want the job of trying to work that miracle!


Article by Sally Stacey

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