M&S needs to stick to what it does best

My 60 plus mother swears by Marks and Spencer’s clothes. To her and many other upper working and lower middle class women of a certain age, the retailer stands for quality at a reassuringly reasonable but certainly not cheap price.

Russell Parsons

Yesterday (14 May), the under-fire retailer launched both a new collection and strategy for its clothing business that it will be hoping will reverse a trend of declining sales that is now approaching long-term.

I will stop short at dissecting the quality of the clothes or passing comment on the new clothing technology promised – button technology that stops buttons from falling off, for example – and conclude that the presentation of its future direction will speak little to my forgiving mother or the many like her.

No details of the marketing campaign to back the July launch of the Autumn/Winter collection have been released as yet but the biggest and most silent advocates of M&S will struggle to see themselves in the one piece of marketing collateral already made public.

In it, is a statuesque, young and pretty English rose wearing a tweed suit designed by brand ambassador and sexagenarian Twiggy for women in the same age ball-park as her. See the image here.

Not off to the most auspicious of starts in matching clothing with marketing.

Marks and Spencer needs to stop reaching to be what it is not. It is a brand that is beloved of a considerable and loyal group of willing advocates, which it seems at pains to alienate in its pursuit of the bright young things that are too busy in Top Shop and Dorothy Perkins to bother with M&S.

If future campaigns do not feature women who reflect the demographic of those most likely to shop there, the retailer is missing a huge trick and, as retail analyst Conlumino puts it in a note: “risk alienating its core market by embarking on a fashion crusade”.

Food now accounts for 60 per cent of the retailer’s revenues. M&S should be happy with that balance, realise that it cannot be all things to all in clothing and focus on maximising revenues from those that have a residual love for what it does best – my mum and the millions like her.

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