British high street staple Marks & Spencer has seriously lost its sex appeal — when it comes to clothing.
Once the store where almost every British woman bought her smalls, its general merchandise sales (which includes women’s clothing) slumped for the fourteenth consecutive quarter in all-important festive shopping period — the 13 weeks to December 27.
M&S has made several attempts in recent years through marketing to convince young women that it stocks on-trend ranges in its stores, not just garments their grannies would wear.
Taking a look back at this year alone, the brand has invested in three major womenswear marketing efforts. But they appear to have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Back in March, M&S unveiled a new line-up for its long-running “Leading Ladies” marketing push. The full — eclectic — cast of “influential British women” included actress Emma Thompson, singers Rita Ora and Annie Lennox, supermodel Alek Wek, campaigner Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, designer Lulu Kennedy, chef Rachel Khoo and structural engineer Roma Agrawal.
Shortly after the campaign launched, M&S marketing boss Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne told Marketing Week the ads had had a “tremendous reaction” and that sales had been an improvement on its previous Leading Ladies push that launched in autumn 2013. However, general merchandise sales fell 1.5% and clothing sales down 0.6% in the 13 weeks to June 28 2014.
In August, M&S changed tack and aligned its food, clothing and general merchandise marketing for the first time with a unifying brand campaign dubbed “Only M&S.” The retailer’s food sales have always been its strong point, appealing to upmarket shoppers, and M&S hoped some of food’s gloss would rub off on clothing sales (not literally, that would stain.)
At the time, Planet Retail senior analyst Stephen Springham said bringing both sides of its business together in one campaign “[made] sense” and could help people view M&S’ clothing lines as aspirational, Marketing Week reported. But Neil Saunders, managing director at Conlumino, told the trade magazine the joined-up marketing approach was “problematic” because there was a “disjoin” between the positions of food and clothing.
But the premium marketing push didn’t appear to pay short-term dividends. M&S’ general merchandise business posted its 13th consecutive quarter of declines in the three months to September 27, and clothing sales fell by 2.2% — a worsening performance on the prior quarter and the same period in 2013.
So to Christmas. M&S again opted for the dual approach of promoting food and clothing in one single marketing push. The ad depicted a couple glam fairies bringing good cheer to the people of Britain by brightening up their dowdy dinners and clothing with “magic and sparkle.”
The TV ad was voted the winner of advertising trade magazine Campaign’s annual “battle of the Christmas ads,” with more than 30% of the online vote. But as M&S’ latest results show, it failed to convince gift buyers that its store was the shop to visit for fashionable womenswear — although M&S chief executive Marc Bolland also said the “difficult quarter” for general merchandise sales was impacted by “unseasonal” warm weather in October and November and disruption at its Castle Donnington distribution centre.
As Phil Dorrell, director of retail consultancy Retail Remedy, summed up in an email sent Thursday: “The 40-something customer that M&S seeks to attract is far more fashion conscious than the brand gives them credit for - and the reality is most of them don't want to be shopping in a store that seems to be catering for ages 40 to 140.”
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