Article by Ceri Wheeldon
On a Sky News bulletin talking about M&S results today – it would appear that clothing sales are down (again) the reporter pointed to a rail of clothes described as ‘Old Fashioned and Frumpy’ designed to appeal to their core customers 50plus and living in the suburbs. What?!!!!
I am 50plus and live in the suburbs – also as I run a very large website for women over 50 you would think that I would be exactly the sort of customer M&S would want to appeal to. Interestingly a couple of years ago following a meeting with M&s where I listed the issues readers of Fab after Fifty found with M&S clothing I was suddenly dropped from all the press previews! I was told we were wrong as their own research with focus groups indicated we did not want dresses with sleeves, well tailored clothes, clothes without embellishments, more quality natural fabrics and more attention to colour. No , I was told, we wanted elasticated waistbands and strappy sundresses.
I visited M&S in Marble Arch last week. I was looking to buy plain white long sleeved T shirts – in size 12. A wardrobe staple I thought I should be able to find in M&S. As I wandered around a store empty of customers (Oxford Street was busy – M&S wasn’t) I did indeed find white T shirts – but apart from one or two size 8’s there were none smaller than a size 16 – in any of the styles. New styles were cut too narrow and too short for a typical 50plus customer.
What profile of customer is M&S trying to sell to?
Wandering around the store the displays were disjointed. It was hard to see what customers they were trying to appeal to. What is the actual profile of their target customer? Clothes on mannequins gave no indication as to price or where to find them in the store. There was nothing that screamed ‘buy me’ – and I was in the mood to buy.
I moved on to Next – where I bought my 2 long sleeved white T shirts (good quality and 2 for £11) and 2 other white tops while I was there.
Do M&S really want to know what their 50plus core customer living in the suburbs wants to wear? I can assure them that old fashioned and frumpy does not fit the bill. I really don’t think moving their core buyers online will work either – my mother in her 70s and her friends do still shop in M&S – but would not even consider buying online- they could risk losing the few clothing customers they do still have. When it comes to style – it’s more of an attitude than an age group – which is why for me, I think House of Fraser, Next and Whistles have got it right at the moment.
I think most of us are willing M&S to get it right and are constantly left feeling let down and disappointed. Old fashioned and frumpy is not aspirational. It is not how we want to dress. Please M&S get it right – or at least the basics for a start!