There are two things successful fashion retailers never lose focus on: their product and their customer. Yet in recent years a number of high street names – Karen Millen and Marks & Spencer to name just two – have been guilty of doing just that.
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Karen Millen is the latest to blame its slide in performance on a lack of understanding of its core customer. This week, its new boss, Beth Butterwick, tells Drapers why she has focused on finding out what shoppers actually want from the brand.
Even the steadiest ships can drift off course if they lose sight of their customer. In March, Next chief executive Lord Wolfson admitted the retailer “took its eye off the ball” and introduced too many trend-led pieces into its collections, which contributed to a drop in sales last year.
This is also a problem that has plagued M&S. Is its customer a sixtysomething wearer of elasticated-waist trousers or a dedicated follower of Alexa Chung? Can it cater to both, as its latest Spend it Well campaign seeks to do?
Last week, M&S chief executive Steve Rowe surprised everyone with his seemingly bizarre choice of Jill McDonald, the CEO of Halfords, to lead the clothing, home and beauty division. Critics were quick to point out that only someone with fashion experience can truly understand the unique challenges of this industry, especially at that level.
However, what McDonald brings to the table is a clear focus on the customer. Throughout her career, whether working with bikes or at British Airways, she has always sought to put customer insight at the centre of business decisions. This could be just what M&S needs.
The customer journey – and how to personalise it without becoming intrusive – was the centre of debate at the recent Drapers Digital Festival. Panels of experts discussed a range of issues, fom how to personalise the mobile experience to which new technologies to embrace. What became apparent was that the fastest-growing companies – from Zalando to Missguided – have a clear understanding of their customer and what makes them tick. Karen Millen and M&S could learn a thing or two from these younger operators. Click here for more on the festival.