M&S dresses for success by choosing food over fashion

Stephan Shakespeare
Follow Stephan
Marks & Spencer Christmas Sales Expected To Be Disappointing
M&S is shutting international stores as part of a cost-cutting drive (Source: Getty)

As Marks & Spencer announces its turnaround plan, now is a great time to analyse how the retailer has reached this point, and whether a revival is possible.

M&S reported falling sales and profits in the six months to the end of September and said it will close more clothing and home stores, and convert many more into food shops. It is also to cease trading in many overseas markets.

Increasingly, the story of Marks & Spencer has become one of food versus fashion.

It has failed to arrest the slide of its clothes division for over a decade, while its supermarket arm has performed admirably, especially considering the competitive nature of that sector in recent years.

Read more: Retail experts blast M&S recovery plans and warn "seismic change" is needed

Put simply, many who would shop in Marks & Spencer for food, do not necessarily think of doing so for their fashion needs. This is particularly true for younger consumers. YouGov data indicates that 12 per cent of M&S’s fashion customers are aged 18-34, while 20 per cent of its supermarket customers belong to that same age group.

Our brand tracking data shows that, despite a recent rally, perception of the fashion side of M&S has fallen compared to year ago.

Read more: M&S braced for profits to tumble in upcoming results

Among all respondents its impression score (whether people have a favourable impression of the brand) has fallen by four points. By contrast its food section’s impression score is three points up on this time 12 months ago.

Analysts have accused M&S of trying to please too many groups at once, and consequently pleasing none of them. By doing so, critics say, it has alienated its traditional base while failing to attract younger customers.

Of course, the fashion world has changed; brands such a Zara and H&M are genuine competitors to M&S, while Asos remains incredibly popular with younger consumers.

In this sense M&S’s move is logical. Given its clothing operation is unlikely to re-attain the status it once had, concentrating on the more successful part of its business makes good sense.