Magazine article Marketing

M&S' Perfect Solution?

Magazine article Marketing

M&S' Perfect Solution?

Article excerpt

Can a clothes range with a back to basics approach spark a Marks & Spencer revival? By Daniel Rogers

Marks & Spencer introduced 60 lines of womenswear, menswear and lingerie when it launched its autumn collection two weeks ago in the hope that the range, called Perfect, will help it halt a three-year free fall.

The bastion of the British high street has already tried its emergency parachute--a major brand relaunch a year ago--but it failed to op en. And unless M&S can win back its core audience of women over 40, it will continue to spiral downward.

Its most recent quarterly results showed the company's descent is quickening. In the 12 weeks to July 7, M&S suffered a 9.1% year-on-year sales slump in its core business of clothing, footwear and gifts, compared with a 6.5% year-on-year fall in the previous quarter.

"Its market share has continued to fall and it must show that sales are bottoming out," says Richard Hyman at retail analysts Verdict Research. "Given the significance of autumn fashions, this new collection is the next major milestone."

The Perfect collection is an attempt to return to basics. The company describes the clothes as 'wardrobe essentials, timeless pieces'.

A [pound]3m magazine and newspaper campaign for the range, created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, shows models -- no longer size 16 -- wearing products from a rollneck sweater to jeans against a plain background with the word 'Perfect' emblazoned next to them.

The theme is repeated in the new M&S magazine, one million in-store leaflets and a mailing to 1.5 million M&S Chargecard-holders.

The campaign will also give a strong nod toward textile innovation. for which M&S is justifiably famous. in ads featuring its machine-washable suits and jeans 'that never lose their shape'.

"The Perfect campaign says 'these are the things you knew we were good at'," says James Murphy, managing partner at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. "It says they are good quality clothes and they flatter."

M&S group marketing director Alan McWalter is brutally frank about the aims of this launch. "The demise of M&S has been closely associated with adult clothing, and particularly womenswear. Getting it right is crucial. We have to get back to what we know best-aspirational quality at accessible prices."

He realises these claims will be met by media and public scepticism. As one M&S marketing insider says: "M&S is now like the Dome. Nobody is interested in writing a positive story" -- but McWalter believes the huge amount of work put in by the retailer in the past 12 months is close to bearing fruit.

Despite better-performing areas such as food -- sales grew 5.9% year-on-year in the quarter-- M&S continues to prioritise the recovery of its clothing business.

UK clothes sales still represent [pound]3bn worth of business for M&S, well over 50% of its turnover. It has about 11% of the clothes retail market and this autumn will sell nine million pairs of socks alone.

But it desperately needs to win back its niche in the middle-market of quality clothing, particularly womenswear. The Perfect collection forms just part of the recovery plan.

Beyond Perfect

In June, M&S handed over its bra manufacture and promotion to Sara Lee Courtaulds, which subsequently hired Brookside and Celebrity Big Brother star Claire Sweeney to front the bra range.

In October, M&S will unveil a range of clothing aimed at 25- to 35-year-old women called Per Una. It has been designed by George Davies, the entrepreneur behind Next and creator of the successful George kids clothing collection at Asda.

The company is also planning a resurgence in the children's clothing market. Last month it announced that it will enter into a [pound]6m joint venture with long-standing clothing supplier Desmond & Sons. …

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