M&S’s rejuvenated store represents a departure from the retailer’s standard format.
Address Ground floor, The Pantheon, Oxford Street, London W1D
Ambience Mid-market service-led
Sub-brands visual merchandising In-house
Department design In-house and Four IV
Floor appeal Contemporary in an old store
Marks & Spencer’s Pantheon store east of Oxford Circus has been given an almost complete makeover. The refurbishment is aimed at showing off the in-store brand segmentation the bellwether retailer has been developing for the past two years.
It features a new-look accessories department at the back of the ground floor, created by an in-house team working with design consultancy Four IV. The concept has also been installed in the Bluewater and London Colney stores.
The accessories department is a trial that works almost as a discrete shop-in-shop with jewellery, scarves, footwear and bags on offer.
According to Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, the company’s new director of marketing and business development, 60% of M&S’s female customers do not buy footwear from the retailer and the new department is aimed at capitalising on this “opportunity”.
Visual merchandising and concept
At the front of the shop the ‘welcome’ area, as it is termed by M&S, features two lines of mannequins on an illuminated plinth. This is intended to make an impression from the moment the shopper enters the store, and it works. Beyond this, each of the sub-brands, including Per Una, Autograph and Limited, are given their own space and shopfit, with
a very different feel for each. The visual merchandising is strong throughout, with good use of styled mannequins.
Whether shoppers understand the segmentation is a moot point, but there can be little doubt that the overall feel is that of a department store where a series of branded merchandise spaces are organised along a central walkway.
The walkway in question leads to the back of the shop, where the new 4,090 sq ft accessories area awaits. Dedicated pieces of mid-shop equipment consisting of white geometrically tiled units beneath curved pieces of wood form the basis of much of the display. The shoe space, which accounts for about 60% of the total, is low-rise in appearance, making in-store navigation relatively straightforward.
All of this might create the notion that M&S has fashioned a space in its core womenswear department that has nothing to do with the rest of the shop. This problem is averted, however, by the use of the graphics package from The Collection range - which features across the rest of the floor - in the accessories area, where it works as a series of signposts.
This may be a standalone space but it does work with the rest of the shop. While it is in keeping with what M&S devotees might expect, it is very much better than what preceded it.
A training programme dubbed ‘Notice Me’ that encourages staff to put shoppers first has been rolled out across M&S this summer. It means shoppers are greeted when they walk into a department or assisted when they require help in
a way they might not have been previously - an attempt at mass-market differentiation.
This sense of difference is also apparent in the ‘Inspiration Station’, a touchscreen set into a wall in the middle of the footwear area. Next to it is a small shelf and shoppers placing any shoe on this will be able to choose from a variety of content about the chosen style. The trick is achieved via an RFID tag embedded in the price label. Something similar can be seen in Burberry’s Regent Street store, but unlike in that store, where the content appears on a fitting room mirror, in M&S a degree of interactivity is offered. One of the more tedious aspects of shoe buying is the wait while a size is located. The touchscreen attempts to alleviate this by giving shoppers something to play with.
Enough has been written about the autumn ranges to fill many pages, but it is worth noting what has been done in the accessories area.
Carded jewellery (jewellery that is presented on backing cards to which the price is attached) is the diagnostic sign of the mid-market, and certainly much of what is on display in this store would probably be regarded as the sort of thing that can be bought one season and then replaced by something else a few months later.
There is, however, less glitz than usually accompanies the category at this level of the market and the table at the front of the jewellery area urging shoppers to ‘Make a statement’ says much about the aspirational nature of the offer.
The same is true of both the shoes and the bags. M&S covers the mid-market bag bases with shoppers, totes, shoulder bags, rucksacks and satchels, in generally muted colours.
The shoes are a bit of a Henry Ford job, with black heavily in the ascendant. Once more, red is used as a highlight colour.
Fewer lines in greater depth has been a point M&S chief executive Marc Bolland has been stressing this year. This may be so, but there remains a lot of choice on this large floor - perhaps still too much. In addition, some of the pricing looks ambitious for a mid-market operator.
Does it work?
This is an improvement on the standard M&S modus operandi when it comes to making a show of its accessories and sub-brands. That said, it is a little neutral in feel and perhaps the retailer could do more without alienating loyal customers.
- Total score 27/40