Here we are again, M&S results day. Cue the chorus of disgruntled customers crying about the retailer alienating its core shopper and countless journalists wondering, as they do every quarter, whether we’ve fallen out of love with “our” M&S.
The fact that most Brits see M&S as a national treasure is a large part of the company’s problem. Most organisations have a clear idea of their target audience or consumer – M&S just can’t seem to narrow it down. Its broad appeal also works against it: most of us probably shop there at least once a year (apparently 1 in 4 British men wear M&S pants) and therefore all of us have a view and many of us think M&S should be adapting itself to our unique preferences. And with individual shareholders largely falling in to the older demographic, it must be extremely hard for Marc Bolland and his team to make strategic decisions which may alienate particular groups of shoppers.
What does “our M&S” stand for?
For me, the bigger problem is less about demographics and more about the company vision. For all that I heard Bolland talking this morning about the move from a traditional British retailer to an international multi-channel one, I still don’t know what M&S’s “higher purpose” is.
If M&S asked itself why it is in business, then this would no doubt help it to narrow down the “who” and the “how” of its operations. Here are a few ideas: rather than talking about multi-channel, should M&S be saying it wants to be “the first choice for basics from the age of 18 to 80” or “your first port of call when you’re dressing for your first job” or “the only store for the perfect capsule wardrobe” or “the one-stop-shop for the young professional” (covering food and general merchandise)?
Some of these certainly narrow the offer but Marc Bolland must know what I mean – this was exactly the kind of vision he was great at articulating when he was at Morrison’s – emphasising the “fresh food” message in almost every interview.
Time to stop worrying about the golden oldies?
Hopefully someone at M&S will one day be bold and decide it can no longer continue trying to be all things to all people. If it were up to me, I would stop trying to please the older customers and focus on professionals in their thirties, forties and fifties who want well-made, fashionable and smart clothes and interesting, healthy and easy food.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. However, M&S’s new concept store at Cheshire Oaks, which has been widely praised and is attracting record numbers of shoppers, proves that the company isn’t scared of innovating. I just look forward to a bit more innovation in the articulation of the message as well as in the commercial execution.