Make M&S clothes expensive, like its food

Marks and Spencer has reported its eighth consecutive quarterly fall in clothing and non-food sales in the past few months – on a like-for-like basis. It needs to stick its neck out and make clothes that are expensive, like its food.

Lucy Handley

At its results presentation this week, chairman Robert Swanell reinforced the fact that it will take some time for the retailer to turn around its fortunes and it is totally right that he is playing the long game.

It plans to reduce the number of product lines it has in clothing by 10 per cent and relaunch its core clothing range as M&S Collection, a plan announced in May. It really has to be brave when it does this, and by that I mean it needs to make the clothes from high quality, costly materials and sell them for prices that may cut some of its customers out of the market.

It insists on the best quality in food and it should do the same with clothes. It needs to ignore the Primarks of this world as it will never compete with them and should not need to either.

My ongoing habit with M&S, when I pop into the Pantheon store on London’s Oxford Street, is to have a quick look at Limited Collection at the front of the shop (which was pretty good a couple of seasons ago) and then head straight for tights at the back or food in the basement. In doing so, I pass acres of cardigans in various shades and lengths that have no wow factor whatsoever.

What I want is to be presented with things I actually need and want – such as the perfect summer work-wear dress that is fully lined and might cost £70. The kind of thing that is fashionable but not high fashion, that will last several years. Food in M&S often has the wow factor; so should its clothes.

It is a bit of a different strategy than the one it has for food. It needs to keep the quality, expensive-ish element it has and apply that to clothing.

The recent tweak to its food marketing strategy, encouraging people to consider it for meals more often using ‘Make Today Delicious’, is interesting. It needs to do almost the opposite with clothing to start with – make it the place for a special occasion, smart workwear and beautifully-cut trousers. The autumn/winter preview suggests it will.

The autumn I’m hoping to buy more than just tights and food (occasionally) from M&S: I’ll be there when the new collection hits at the end of August.

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