Announcing its annual results on May 23, Marks & Spencer publicly agreed with what its older customers have been saying for years: it’s too fixated with fashion. Slide 9 at this presentation puts it as “previously fixated on best and fashion, not style”
The word “fashion” is used in many different ways in our industry, so let’s be clear what M&S meant. They meant clothes like the ones above. Clothes that’ll probably look odd in a year or two, that look as if you’ve tried and that probably don’t feel very comfortable. We probably call the people who buy them fashionistas. Most of my audience – and virtually all your customers – aren’t fashionistas. Mostly, they’d rather look like this.
Stylish. And we’d call people buying clothes like this – well, just normal people.
The clothes Paul and his wife are wearing in the photo may be pricey – but they’re just the kind of clothes you’d have once expected M&S to sell. Clothes they don’t seem to any more.
I think that’s the distinction M&S was making in their presentation when they talked about “fashion, not style”. And I think they’re making progress towards getting more and more of their range to meet their customers’ expectations of style.
Similar thing about “fixated on best”. There IS a slightly old-fashioned kind of customer who puts huge stress on “the finest cotton money can buy” – and that’s not the customer M&S really wants. They want customers who want – just ordinary products for ordinary people, well made and decent value.
But will M&S be able to satisfy ordinary people wanting stylish ordinary clothes? That’s the huge question mark.
It’s an area M&S used to be great at: but I see why analysts are right not to trust M&S to make progress quickly.
I think we’re beginning to see some signs though. Admitting the problem’s always the first step to completing the cure.