Marks & Spencer cites “unseasonable” weather as the explanation for the company’s 13th consecutive quarterly drop in sales and continued struggles.According to the retailer, their general merchandise sales, largely made up of clothing, fell 4% in the second quarter. While these are disappointing results, chief executive Marc Bolland said he was “pleased” with the company’s performance despite the unfavourable market conditions.
However, other market specialists see Marks & Spencer’s troubles differently.
Director of Retail Remedy, a retail consultancy firm, Phil Dorrell attributes Marks & Spencer’s decline to their outdated and complex clothing lines. “They feel like museums where older people go to browse endless rows of black slacks,” said Dorrell. Even though the brand is trying to introduce some definition to their lines, many of the non-flagship stores are still struggling with their identity, currently lost in sub-brands.
M&S’ food ranges does offer a ray of optimism, but Dorrell says that the gap between the two company arms is only increasing. With its stores providing easy access to professionals and well-marketed products, the company’s food division offers the “sole bright point” in Marks & Spencer’s financial outlook.
The common thread of all related opinions is that the problem doesn’t lie with M&S Food, the department which has seen small but steady increases quarter over quarter. The problem is with the company’s general merchandise, from shopping experience to price point to lack of fashionable options for the wide-spread demographic it’s targeting. “In-store, particularly in larger stores, shopping across sub-brands can be a frustrating experience, with shoppers often expected to navigate multiple floors with little guidance in their quest to find the perfect outfit,” says Catherine Shuttleworth, CEO of Savvy Marketing.
As the younger demographic moves to online shopping and wants on-trend merchandise, Marks & Spencer is slow to take advantage of those sales. With rivals like Next, Zara and H&M who boast hip shopping venues and easy-to-use websites, the retailer faces a steep climb. In the second quarter, online sales dropped 4.6%, even following the relaunch of M&S.com back in February.
“You get the sense that most British people still bear a degree of goodwill towards M&S - while quietly wishing it were better and more relevant than it actually is,” says Dorrell. Shuttleworth agrees, “improving the shopper experience will help regain its rightful place in the hearts of the British public.”