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Staying relevant- marks and spencer

September 14, 2011

UK retailer Marks and Spencer is a strange hybrid; it sells both food, homewares and clothes which means it faces tough competition from a number of different players.

Keeping the brand relevant and differentiated is critical and to do this the company recently announced a plan costing close to $1 billion to revamp key elements of its own brands and stores.

Marks and Spencer is unique because it only sells own brand goods, but to keep these relevant its been forced to continually update and collaborate.

Its $1 billion plan is designed to solve for four core issues

1. Consumers find it difficult to shop the store
2. Positioning of own brands is unclear
3. Only 20% of its customers shop its home department
4. Its food offering is looking more like the average supermarket

Some of the solutions are pretty obvious like better and clearer in-store signage, making their clothing sub-brands more distinctive and more like real brands.

For the home department, they’ve understood that they are catering to different demographics and lifestages which need separate brand experiences- Classic, Contemporary (a collaboration with Conran) and Design (a collaboration with Marcel Wanders).

For food- they’ve focused in on developing two core areas of the department; the deli and the bakery. The deli will cut its own upscale meats like Serano ham and even make its own pasta. They are also introducing over 1000 new SKUs which includes an international range of branded specialty products.

Beyond the physical stores- it’s opting out of its web relationship with Amazon and developing its own online presence.

This development from Marks and Spencer is interesting to see for a few reasons; it’s a very bold step in a tough economic climate, they’ve done their homework and are solving for specific problems, but most important- they understand the intensity of the competition and are doing their best to remain relevant.

However, despite the changes making sense strategically and they also seem relatively easy to implement operationally, but it remains to be seen if these steps are radical enough to bring a significant return in such a competitive retail landscape.

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