There has been a lot written about the troubles facing M&S over the last couple of years but the grim reality of their clothing departments really hit home last week when in both the Bluewater and Norwich stores I was left feeling claustrophobic and overwhelmed by a sea of murky grey.
It goes without saying that the food department is going great guns as are the children’s clothing department and Homeware – the latter where the service was particularly good. It was another matter entirely in the women’s and men’s clothing departments where the stock was piled so high I momentarily thought I had stumbled into Primark.
Which begs the question why is there so much stock? It must cost a fortune to design, make, ship, distribute, unpack, display, repack and dispose of so many clothing lines and given the amount of items for sale there must be a vast amount of surplus they have to dispose of.
There seems little point M&S spending a fortune on their current Leading Ladies ad campaign which is all very pleasing to the eye, when the reality in the stores bears no resemblance to the glossy, shiny ads. These innovative and no doubt expensive ad campaigns may get people in through the door but they will leave just as quickly as they came in, if they do not have a pleasant retail experience. Only a handful of measures are required to start to improve the lot of the clothing departments and no doubt greater profitability will ensue.
1. Have staff on the shop floor, who are familiar with the stock, to advise and assist and with a least a basic understanding of what suits what body shape and colouring.
2. Get rid of half of the stock. If you cannot see what is for sale it makes browsing and ultimately purchasing confusing and difficult.
3. Inject some colour into the stock. Black and dark grey suit less than 30% of the population yet these colours represent at least 60% of the items for sale – especially in winter.
4. The brands are a good idea as it helps you home in on what section of the store to go to. However, all the clothing should be clearly displayed according to these brands. When I looked across the women’s clothing departments it was not clear to me at all what item belonged to what brand – it looked like a jumble sale. As a result, I didn’t know where to start looking for items that would appeal to me and left.
As a final point, on the same day, I went into John Lewis in both places and had a thoroughly enjoyable retail experience in the clothing departments with amazing customer service and left feeling a warm glow inside. If M&S senior management want to know how best to improve, they need do no more than wander around a John Lewis store then pop back into one of their own stores and see and feel the stark comparison.