We have been hearing for a while that British M&S is doing fine with M&S Food but not so well with fashion. This is despite the fact M&S offers traditionally good quality clothes. The situation in the fashion department looked improved with rise in sales, however, in 2015 a new decline has been reported (Butler, 2015).
The recent information also revealed the change in the management structure due to disappointing sales in the fashion department. Therefore, in early January the media reported that the M&S boss Mark Bolland announced stepping down from his position in April due to disappointing sales, i.e. the sales declined for 5.8% in the period of three months, which is more than what even financial analysts predicted (Butler & Kollewe, 2016). Mark Bolland will be replaced by Steve Rowe who already works in M&S as an executive director of general merchandise, and who has an extensive experience in fashion unlikely for Bolland who previously worked for Heineken and Morrisons (Cartner-Morley, 2016).
Every time I hear about problems in M&S, I always wonder what is going on. In classes, when we comment on various marketing and advertising campaign, I often hear student comments about childhood and visits to M&S to buy clothes with their parents, food for holidays, etc. M&S is simply more than just a British retailer. Some items can be costly but we do know there are those that are cheaper, and there are plenty of customers in the UK who can easily afford M&S fashion. So, what is going on?
The media reported shareholders felt that M&S is not designing clothes as consistently as they used to because the person ends up wearing all sizes, and that designs are not as good as they used to be (Butler, 2015). Another reason for the decline in sales in M&S is also often found in their inability to provide what customers want since customer expectations are continually changing (Richardson et al, 2015, p. 18).
I also looked at their marketing and PR more carefully, and I can’t say M&S is doing something fundamentally wrong that can be blamed for the current situation. For example, Christmas campaign from 2014, #Follow the Fairies, was well done and it created a positive impact in the media. The adverts showed a Christmas magic with fairies giving us what we want primarily in an emotional sense, as well as fostering lost values of playing outside in the snow rather than staring in computers and mobile phones.
In addition, a PR campaign was donating gifts and fake snow to create magic in schools around the UK, which created positive media coverage of the company (see e.g. Clarke 2014; Smith 2014; ITV News 2014).
On the other hand, the last Christmas campaign featured fashion campaign showing M&S clothes in an advert clearly meant to show M&S fashion as glamorous and able to compete with other fashion retailers. The fact M&S decided to focus on fashion during the Christmas period already signaled something is wrong again, because we all expected another ‘food porn’ series of adverts, for which M&S is famous for.
I was personally disappointed with last Christmas campaign after such a wonderful campaign in 2014. However, my disappointment came from the fact I am a sociologist who simply loves campaigns that address social issues such as #Follow the Fairies campaign that created magic of two people meeting each other and finding love through a little accident rather than online, children being pushed to interact and play outdoors rather than staying in all of the time, etc. When I overcome that issue, I realized that the last Christmas campaign from 2015 was not poorly done and it was certainly not worse than any other Christmas campaign we saw in December 2015. It was only John Lewis that continued in its recognizable style of fostering a certain value for Christmas, i.e. in the last campaign it was partnership with Age UK calling for solidarity with older people and their loneliness but everyone else tried to promote their product lines rather than engage consumers in a debate.
The Kate Effect
A person who has helped British fashion the most is the Duchess of Cambridge who made high fashion cool (Arthurs, 2012) by wearing it alongside larger brands she also consumes. Nevertheless, Duchess of Cambridge has helped British fashion industry by promoting British brands and making them popular in the US due to the famous “Kate effect”. For example, British brands Reiss, Issa and LK Bennett all dramatically increased their sales in the US, including LK Bennett opening a flagship store in New York, all thanks to the Duchess who acts as an unofficial brand ambassador for these companies (Thomas-Bailey & Wood, 2012).
General popularity of the Royal Family is very well known. It is not just Americans that like the Royal Family. It is the majority of the world that interconnects UK with the Royal Family and believes the UK should be proud of them, as research from the British Council confirmed. This visibility clearly contributes to the British economy, as the report recognizes and as obvious with the fashion industry largely promoted by the Duchess of Cambridge.
Given all that is happening with M&S fashion, perhaps now it is the time for a Royal visit to M&S to create yet another “Kate effect” for a traditional British retailer and the British fashion industry?
Thank you for reading.
Arthurs, D. (2012). ‘She made it cool to wear Topshop on the red carpet’: Brit who styled Kate hails ‘amazing’ Duchess of Cambridge. Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2083185/Kate-Middleton-cool-wear-Topshop-red-carpet-says-stylist-Nikki-Pennie.html
British Council (2014). As Others See Us. Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/as-others-see-us-report.pdf
Butler, S., & Kollewe, J. (2016). M&S boss Marc Bolland to step down. Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/07/ms-boss-marc-bolland-to-step-down
Butler, S. (2015). M&S clothing sales suffer spring falls. Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/07/marks-and-spencer-clothing-sales-suffer-spring-falls
Cartner-Morley, J. (2016). Can Steve Rowe save M&S fashion? Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2016/jan/07/can-steve-rowe-save-ms-fashion
Clarke, J. (2014). Surprise snow fall at Cornish school part of Marks & Spencer Christmas TV campaign. Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Cornish-school-covered-snow-used-Marks-Spencer/story-24433242-detail/story.html
ITV News (2014). School transformed into winter wonderland. Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: http://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/story/2014-11-03/school-transformed-into-winter-wonderland/
Richardson, N.; James, J., & Kelley, N. (2015). Customer-centric marketing: Supporting sustainability in the digital age. London: Kogan Page.
Smith, M. (2014). Who are The Two Fairies? Twitter based ‘fairies’ perform magical acts of kindness across the country. Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/who-two-fairies-twitter-based-4559503
Thomas-Bailey, C., & Wood, Z. (2012). How the ‘Duchess of Cambridge effect’ is helping British fashion in US. Retrieved 14 January 2016 from: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/mar/30/kate-duchess-of-cambridge-fashion-lk-bennett