How about this for a strategy? Move into a new market overseas, open a number of stores, then when things go bad, close them.
Address 100 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris
Total stores in France One (more planned)
Store design In-house
When things improve, move in again and start opening stores afresh once more. It’s the kind of vacillation that would have business school profs reaching for the case study book labelled ‘How not to do it’.
That’s pretty much the story of Marks & Spencer in France. Since last year it’s been back in Paris, with a store on the Champs-Élysées. The choice of this location says much about the state of play as regards M&S’s second coming in France. This is the most expensive thoroughfare in Europe on which to set up a shop. It should come as little surprise, therefore, that the three-floor space it occupies falls into the small but beautifully formed category – or that’s probably the way management views this development.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
If you’d visited a French M&S back in the day, it would have been a vision of relative uniformity. To its credit, this has changed. Now, fake brick walls, photo-portrait graphics and mannequin groupings prevent monotony. It is a measure of the importance attached to lingerie in this market that the basement is devoted to it. Here are pictures of women wearing the stock and mannequins reclining on shelves and chaises longues. Upstairs a level it’s pretty straightforward to pick out the different brands, with individual VM treatments for Per Una, Indigo and suchlike. This is pleasant but unsurprising VM and may fit with the over-50s profile of the customers in-store on the day of visiting.
02 - CONCEPT
The concept seems to be to get as much as possible into the available space without making the enterprise feel crowded. Practically, this means womenswear on all three floors and a food hall on ground. At the heart of the store is a circular staircase, which makes a small space feel smaller. That said, it is used to good effect as a unifying feature, making a virtue of (presumed) architectural necessity. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to feel a mite constrained.
03 - SERVICE
Charming, helpful and (usefully) almost bilingual. There were plenty of staff on the floor and though most were busy tidying and restocking, they were alert to the needs of the many shoppers who were on each floor – it was lunchtime. A visit of head office types seemed to be in progress, but even management were at pains to help customers and to make more of the “boutique virtuelle”. The M&S proposition was founded on quality and service; on the Champs-Élysées, it seems to live up to this reputation.
04 - PRODUCT
A lot of prints across the board, spring pastels and sorbets were on show. A mild carp might be that, with the exception of the Indigo area, much of it looked as if it could have been merchandised in any of the M&S brand areas across the shop – meaning product adifferentiation may still have some way to go before the segmentation that is one of its declared aims is a reality. There is also the matter of footwear. Women like shoes and this category looked to be in short supply in the Champs-Élysées store.
05 - COMPETITION
The thing about the Champs-Élysées is that, for the most part, it is about luxury brands, H&M notwithstanding. This means that for such a long and important street, competition for the M&S offer is scarce. The mid-market pricing and range of styles means that shopping this store needn’t mean a big dent in the bank balance. There will still be money left over to buy a little something from the Louis Vuitton emporium along the street. M&S may win in this location by default as there is little to compete with it in fashion’s mid-market middle ground.
06 - VERDICT - AN UPTOWN WINNER
M&S’s reappearance in Paris was always going to have its critics, but location and execution emphasise both the retailer’s difference from others and its Britishness. A small shop is presented so it can be most things to most women. Men are not catered for (other than online), but most of the males in the store seemed happy making their way to the food hall to buy Percy Pigs and other English delicacies. This is the first of several stores planned to open in Paris and it looks a fair start, though a little more wow would not have gone amiss.