Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Simply about Marks & Spencer past and present

The re-launched Simply M & S
In recent days Marks & Spencer has re-launched its Simply M & S value food range. No shame there; Waitrose kicked off the discount trend a few years ago and every other supermarket chain followed its lead.
But for me seeing the company's recent newspaper advert boasting - among other offers - that it was selling chopped tomatoes as  cheap as 69p a can reminded me how far the company fell off its pedestal.
Forty or so years ago M & S was considered as almost the eighth Wonder of the World. A visit to a store was close to the top of every tourists' itinerary such was the excellence of its clothing and food.
The opening of the first M & S in Paris was treated as the retail equivalent of the Moon landing.
The company was so influential the UK's textile industry rose and fell with its fortunes. Once M & S carrier bags bore the message that 90 per cent of the group's products were sourced in the UK.
Inevitably M & S was forced on the defensive by the challenge of competitors who both exploited cheap imports and upped their game.
Yesterday's shoppers recognised M & S's food ranges were more expensive than rivals but its products - especially convenience meals - were so superior to make paying extra worthwhile. This advantage has been lost to improved competition.
On clothing M & S once avoided the fashion market to concentrate on well-made classic lines that didn't date. I'm no expert but I've heard it said today it loses out to trendier fashion stores and its classic ranges are too expensive.
What I think differentiated M & S was the quality and quantity of its sales staff. In today's food operation staff have little time other than to keep shelves filled. And I avoid those outlets that depend on serve-yourself checkouts.
As for clothing, here's my recent experience.
I needed a summer jacket. I went to a large M & S and found the too few assistants in the menswear department busy. Eventually I selected a suitable jacket myself but the sleeves were too long. When an assistant was free she advised that there was only one person who would know how best to get the sleeves shortened.
I waited 20 minutes until he, an older man, perhaps Iranian, was free. He knew his stuff; I could see why his services were popular.
He pinned the sleeves perfectly and explained how the alteration would be done. I returned a couple of days later and, thanks to him, was happy with the result.
There were quite a few moments when I might have dropped the idea of buying the jacket from M & S because of the low staff numbers.
I have fond memories of M & S both as a regular shopper and later as a financial journalist. But they are just memories.

1 comment:

  1. It's a pity M and S did not conquer America. But then, no UK retail group has managed to do that successfully on a grand scale, not even Tesco.

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