M&S looks to reclaim ‘quality’ positioning to reverse falling clothing sales

Marks and Spencer has unveiled a new strategy for its clothing business in the hope of reasserting its “quality” positioning and revive flagging sales.

Marks and Spencer is hoping its Autumn/Winter collection can lure back shoppers.

The retailer unveiled the first collection, for Autumn and Winter, informed by the fresh commitment to quality last night (15 May). It also announced it would introduce several fabric and product innovations for future ranges including “Ascolite” button technology, which the retailer claims prevents buttons from falling off, as well as fewer product lines (see box below for details).

It is hoped the changes will help improve the performance of its clothing business, which has suffered several consecutive quarters of declining sales.

General merchandise sales, which include clothing and homeware receipts, fell 2.2 per cent in the 13 weeks to 30 March. The dip followed a 3.8 per cent fall over Christmas.

The decline has led to accusations by some analysts that M&S is failing to differentiate its offering from mid-market rivals Next and Debenhams and budget retailers such as Primark.

John Dixon, executive director of general merchandise who alongside style director Belinda Earl has driven the changes, says the launch of the collection and strategy is an attempt to clarify its points of differentiation.

“It is the culmination of six months of extensive research that has seen us listen to our customers’ views on our brand and build on our heritage.

“This has reinforced that exceptional quality and confident style should lie at the heart of our clothing proposition and provide the M&S difference that our customers expect from us,” he adds.

Mintel’s research director Richard Perks welcomed the changes but adds they are just the “tip of the iceberg” for the retailer in its attempt to reverse its fortunes.

“M&S’s problem is its sheer lack of differentiation. What does M&S stand for? The changes [to the clothing collections] are good to see but they are not everything”.

M&S’s plan to boost clothing sales

  • The relaunch of its core clothing range as M&S Collection with a “considered edit of stylish wardrobe essentials”.
  • The launch of a “Best of British” women and menswear range celebrating “the best in British design and manufacture”.
  • Reducing the number of product lines by 10 per cent.
  • Limited Collection to be rebranded to Limited Edition with a focus on “more trend-led design”. The range will be updated every two weeks.
  • A change to its sizing blocks. For example, formal trousers will have six sizing blocks compared to 16 previously.

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