At 132 years of age, Marks and Spencer’s is having something of a crisis. On the one hand, it is still a brand that customers love, whilst on the other hand their fashion lines targeting M&S’s sweet spot of women over fifty are clearly failing. Listed at 18 on the top 20 superbrands website, it’s still up there with the likes of Amazon.co. uk, listed at 19th, and Google listed at 16th, but it needs to do what these superbrands do really rather well, namely, understand it’s customer. If announcing that it plans to close thirty UK clothing and homeware shops is anything to go by, the fashion side of this awesome business seriously needs to have a word with itself. The problem with M&S is that their designers and buyers don’t appear to get their customers. Even Steve Rowe, M&S’ Chief Executive described this critically important segment of his customer base as “Mrs M&S”, and in a single sentence probably made them all feel undeservedly old and unloved.
Women over fifty don’t want to feel old or be described as “Mrs” anything. They have their own identity and are proud of it. Their identity isn’t rooted in their marital status or defined by their husbands, in fact, women over fifty top the divorce charts and are described in some marketing circles as the “Silver Separators”. Most women in this segment expressed that they stayed together because of the kids, that they'd had enough and didn't see an exciting future staying with someone for another twenty to thirty years simply being ignored. This doesn’t sound like a demographic that would take to kindly to being described as Mrs M&S. Women over fifty are confident, they know who they are, and know their own mind. They also commonly have plenty of disposable cash because the kids, with any luck, have finally flown the nest and the mortgage is often dealt with. The last thing they want is to look like their Nan did 20 years ago, or like their young daughters do now. What they do want, is to be made to look and feel fabulous. Women over fifty are glamorous and spend a fortune on their appearance, I should know I'm engaged to one.
M&S food business on the other hand has understood its customer base and has moved with the times, with some of the most polished advertising campaigns on UK TV. With nearly 600 Simply Food shops in the UK alone, it’s doing great! Who hasn’t been moved to wanton foodie abandon when presented with a close up shot of a M&S chocolate brownie, oozing its tempting molten innards. If M&S food halls were as complacent as its fashion halls then it would still be showcasing gondola end delights such as scampi and chips, corned beef fritters and tins of spam, along with After Eight mints or Arctic Rolls. I am afraid M&S' fashion empire is now harvesting the fruit of regrettable neglect, with disenfranchised, commercially high-value shoppers, preferring to shop from brands who see them for who they really are, and most importantly understand where they are at. Not understanding its customer base and not moving fast enough with the times has been at the root of today's headlines. It’s as my chiropractor once said, “the cumulative effect of years of neglect, but at least you're finally doing something about it”.