The much-anticipated preview of Marks & Spencer’s autumn 13 collection drew everyone’s focus to the quality of the range – but at what expense to the actual customer?
Belinda Earl and co clearly had a message to get across this week: quality, quality, quality. Having been criticized by everyone from consumers to suppliers in recent months, it’s clear the high street staple wanted people to know it had the foundations finally in place.
This is good common sense – if you can’t stop shoppers from complaining about holes and thin fabric, you will never tempt them back again. But it seems to me, and others in the industry I’ve spoken to, that the design team’s time would have been best spent focusing on the volume products that are destined to turn M&S around, rather than high end statement pieces costing hundreds of pounds.
This is the flip side of a focus on quality. Gilets costing £600; dresses for £400; trousers at £350; even coats at £300 felt at odds with what many felt was the second major issue M&S needed to iron out: its focus on the core customer.
Just who are these pieces aimed at? The heartland customer, used to spending £20 on a top or £30 on trousers is unlikely to give up 20-times that amount on an overgrown waistcoat. Equally the sort of person who would think nothing of dropping a few hundred pounds on a dress would probably not do in M&S.
Consumer spend is, of course, not just about quality of the garment but perceived quality of the brand name and despite Marc Bolland’s many references to Selfridges at the launch event, his business is just not in that bracket.
Obviously these items are not expected to sell in droves, and are designed to create excitement around the range the will filter down to the less expensive items. But this is crunch time for M&S and its team should have been spending all its time and energy getting the fundamentals (including the store environment) right before tinkering around with the cherry on top.
Once the hype from the launch dies down, it is the shopper who will have to be convinced. I hope enough has been done on the volume side of the business for M&S to have done that.