Okay it’s time for a confession: “Yes, my name is Paul, and I’m an M&S shopper.”
“Nooo, but why would you do that?” I can hear some of you cry.
Well, encouraged by a very fleeting visit to their re-vamped Brighton store, which actually looks rather good, I was tempted by a number of ‘20% off’ vouchers mailed to me to visit one of their out of town stores – easy to drive to, bigger than the said city centre store and with free parking – what’s not to like?
The shop itself is quite nicely laid out, it’s all on one floor. But as with previous visits to M&S stores in the last few years the clothing areas are strangely quiet, and those few people who were there all seemed to be my age or much older.
The purpose of the visit (yes, I know, I know, I should just have looked online) was to buy some new dressing gowns. Now you’d have thought that for a basic, towelling dressing gown, in a dark colour, M&S would be the ideal destination.
Well ‘yes’ and ‘no’. They may have the items but do they have the sizes in stock?
Unfortunately not – this is Marks and Spencer. They’ve been having stock problems for years so why would they suddenly have sorted it out now? Asking in store for assistance I was directed to a customer information point with a large touch screen display and a shop assistant who clearly didn’t know the first thing about service – she seemed quite rude and rather patronising to the customers in front of me, so it was with trepidation that I awaited my turn. A few taps of the screen by her revealed the said item was not available in ‘large’ (this is hardly a rare size surely?) either there in that store or at their central warehouse. The best suggestion from this rather blunt female assistant was to “buy the wrong size and hope it came available again in the near future” – err, no I don’t think I want to try that approach thank you!
So sadly, and without a purchase I returned home. I did however phone a very helpful customer service person via the M&S web site. This confirmed that the only stores with available stock in large size were (I think) in Swindon, Charlton, and some place in Yorkshire, the name of which I forget now, but also that this line was now discontinued. Whilst this is useful information to have if you are a long-distance lorry driver I for one was not about to embark on such a journey for a couple of bathrobes. (The option of having the items sent back from any one of those stores is not something M&S currently offer – in the age of next day home delivery and with drone delivery seemingly around the corner, perhaps this is something for management to revisit).
Whilst I still have a loyalty to the M&S brand – after all I’m a card holder and recently switched some of my insurance policies to them because they seem to offer value in that area – my loyalty to their non-food offer has weakened yet again.
I really fear for this retailer, I just can’t see it turning things around.
Their forays into younger fashion are clearly not pulling in that demographic – getting PR from one or two high fashion clothing lines each season is clearly not the way forward. Their customer base, whether they like it or not, is still skewing older and yet they appear oblivious of this and therefore do not seem to cater for them. The product range seems far too wide, is it my imagination but there do seem to be too many style options in each clothing category? (Fact: the M&S web site at the time showed 25 dressing gown/bathrobe styles, and that’s just in the men’s section!), and hence they have little chance of maintaining stock levels across all sizes. Again, this is sadly nothing new.
At best I will use their online shopping option, and I dare say we’ll make a single trip in December to stock up on festive food and drink, but even so, Waitrose may nowadays be a better option for us. But as far as visiting M&S for what should be their core clothing offer, well I’m really quite reluctant to do so again. And sadly for the brand I suspect I’m not going to be the only one going elsewhere.
NOTE: By coincidence Marks and Spencer’s results are due out tomorrow and it is strongly rumoured that core clothing sales will be down, albeit with improved margins.