M&S was back in the news recently, it’s the retailer with the story that keeps on running. Not for the first time M&S is the subject of this blog, but sadly the story doesn’t ever seem to change.
In the latest in our saga we have the new Chief Executive, Steve Rowe outlining – in not much detail it must be said – his plans for the future, I say ‘plans’ since strategy is such an overused word and I seem to recall a previous Chief Exec of the same company banning its use. It seems that once more sales of their core non-food goods – clothing and general merchandise – have been disappointing. In fact, it is hard now to recall a time when clothing sales were not disappointing. Mr Rowe got himself into a bit of a mess when he tried to explain how they needed to appeal more to a particular target market, one that he labelled ‘Mrs M&S’ (these were 50 year old females, visiting the store approximately every three weeks). As a form of targeting this seemed to some M&S customers a little bit patronising, and to marketing professionals this probably sounded a little bit too basic. But on the upside at least there is a recognition that M&S cannot appeal to “every man”, or is that “every woman”.
I think one of the more interesting points Steve Rowe makes is that the new M&S approach will be built around the customer. On several occasions in a radio interview last week he talked about ‘listening to the customer’ or ‘talking to the customer’, such an approach has of course got to be highly praised. An article in the weekend papers suggested that M&S have embarked on some 250,000 customer conversations in recent months, again as market research consultants we wholeheartedly support this new M&S way.
The questions we have to ask however are, why this is such a revolutionary approach for the company – i.e. if listening to their customers is the way forward, what exactly have they been doing up until now? The other question of course is if after having done all this listening M&S will actually do anything about what they have heard? After all, it is one thing to listen, but it is another thing entirely to act on it.
Once again we will wait with interest to see what changes, if any, this new initiative will make to M&S in the future.