As my interview about Marks & Spencer’s first quarter results on Sky News came to end today, presenter Adam Boulton asked me and Verdict analyst Maureen Hinton if M&S could disappear from our high streets.
I think I managed to compose myself (judge for yourself in the video above), but I wanted to scream out: “NO!” as goose pimples emerged on my forearms.
M&S clearly has problems as far as womenswear is concerned, but I can’t accept that such a British fashion stalwart could cease to exist. Admittedly, if M&S were to launch today, it would look completely different. Who would want to cater for an entire nation? Who would want to tough it out in the middle market? M&S today would launch with a much more niche proposition, target a more specific consumer and sit at a different end of the market.
But we can’t go back in time. What M&S can do, though, is offer its customers some clarity. Before I went on Sky News, I gave my mum a call to ask her about M&S. She’s a stylish woman and an M&S target customer. “I still go there to have a look but I don’t really like it anymore,” she told me. “I used to like Limited, but it’s too crazy now, and Autograph is a bit dull.” She still buys underwear there.
I used to love Limited, too. It was cool, picked up on key trends but interpreted them expertly to suit the M&S customer. It also had originality. But I agree with my mum; I think it’s gone too young and too trend-led. Autograph still looks good and you can find some great pieces within the collection.
But I can’t help thinking that seven sub-brands (another M&S customer said to me: “what on earth is “Indigo”) is too many. Do we need Per Una and M&S Woman? And what, indeed, is the need for Indigo, a “casual clothing line for the 30-plus woman”? Isn’t the 30-plus woman heading to Uniqlo for that instead?
M&S has in its favour the love of the British public – we want to like it, we want it do well, but we also feel like we own it, so we want it to satisfy our needs. M&S needs to offer quality basics, but keep the offer tight – a white vest is a white vest. Quality is top of mind for M&S’ customers and, finally, design is arguably the most important element. We don’t necessarily want orange hot pants – (watch my Sky News interview above for an explanation…) – but we want great looking, well-cut clothes. And we’ll support you, M&S, if you deliver.
Ana Santi also appeared on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 - listen here
Ana Santi, deputy editor, Drapers