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Why do M&S think that their core 50plus customer wants old fashioned and frumpy clothing?


Article by Ceri Wheeldon

fashion

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!

 

Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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Comments

  1. Joanna

    May 20, 2014

    Oh yes! All of the above!!
    I have filled in countless surveys for M&S telling them I don’t want their frumpy clothes. And when I want a simple striped T Shirt I don’t need glitter and a bow as well. The current selection is not just uninspiring – it is actually horrible. The men’s stuff is no better – try to find a simple round necked black jumper!
    They need to get their act together and go back to supplying stylish quality essentials or they will go under – there are plenty of online opportunities to buy these things elsewhere as well now.

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      May 20, 2014

      I always find it insulting that they feel they need to permanently accessorise tops and dresses for us Joanna – and I find it incredibly frustrating that they don’t seem to want to listen!

    • claire

      May 20, 2014

      when I first moved out of the UK I thought I would miss M&S but not a bit of it. On the few occasions I have wandered into an M&S store the last few years I have made a beeline for the exit. Italy may be on its last legs according to the EU but swop their stores for M&S? NO WAY…

  2. Denise

    May 20, 2014

    Marks and Spencer need to know that we don’t want trousers which sit just below the waist, so that any extra pounds we may be carrying show over the top. We want them to fit comfortably on the waist please.
    The present collection of polyester dresses, takes me back to the ‘Crimplene’ days of the 60’s – it was horrible then and is cheap and horrible now.

  3. Monica

    May 20, 2014

    To be fair, M&S do have some stylish clothes, but their stores are so muddled that I can’t be bothered to look for them in what resembles a giant jumble sale. I recently wanted a black cardigan to accessorise dresses I wear for the office – searched all their different ‘ranges’ such as Per Una, M&S Collection, Autograph, Classic, Indigo Collection, Limited Edition – absolutely nothing to suit and it took ages. Got what I wanted from Laura Ashley of all places – black with white polka dots, three quarter sleeves, v neck, high spec buttons. I’ve even given up on M&S tights as Walford are so much better.

    M&S have sadly lost the plot and there’s nothing aspirational about their fashion.

  4. Aly Stott

    May 20, 2014

    I agree! Their clothes are awful whatever age you are. I can’t remember the last time I bought anything there. They need to get their act together. I’m 52 and don’t want to dress like my gran did in the 70s.

  5. Alessandra Smith

    May 20, 2014

    I haven’t bought anything from M&S clothing ranges for years and years. It’s all too much & too awful. Really don’t understand why they don’t cut the amount of “stuff” they have and concentrate in fewer better quality better design items. It’s a no brainer, I should think. And really, they go around with their collective head in the sand: don’t they see what 50+ women look like these days, what they do, how they live?

  6. Rose

    May 20, 2014

    I absolutely agree !! Their store layout is totally confused and it also infuriates me that they display the same clothes in different parts of the store. In the winter I was looking for a simple pair of black jeggings to go with a tunic dress. I found the perfect ones. I’m only 5’3″ but all they had were regular and long length, no indication they even did them in short. Never mind I thought, they are a perfect fit otherwise, I can turn the bottoms up and noone will notice as I’ll be wearing them under boots. So I bought them. On the way out, in a completely different part of the store, my eyes were caught by a pink top, only to see a whole rack of the same jeggings… including my size in short length ! So I join the queue for the tills once more to exchange them. What a waste of my and their assistant’s time…

  7. Anne Mackle

    May 20, 2014

    I agree with everyone about the store layout. It is very hard to find what you’re looking for as the same kind of outfit can be spread throughout the store. They probably have university graduates in design working for them but they obviously lack common sense. M& S used to be the place where,if I needed an outfit I was sure to find it,not anymore. I usually find what I need in Next as they have a better range of sizes and more modern clothes. Maybe you should send them all the comments.

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      May 20, 2014

      I did that previously Anne – I printed them and took them to a meeting – they told me we were wrong! Perhaps I should try again – especially as the comments are all so consistent !

  8. Ntathu Allen

    May 20, 2014

    Definitely agree with all of the above. I shop in Zara and Top Shop with my daughters and they are much aligned with what I’d wear.

  9. Jan Foster

    May 20, 2014

    I agree with you Ceri – I do believe that House Of Fraser are ‘coming of age’, especially with the reports today that women at the BAFTAS were dressed from H of F. I often take my image clients there to shop, with great success…….or to John Lewis of course.
    I think the problem M & S has is that it is trying to appeal to too many different age groups, and not really satisfying our age group as a result. We are looking for sophisticated, elegant, flattering clothing in good quality fabrics ( generally- there are exceptions of course!). I’ve taken part in quite a few M & S focus groups and I have to say there are some women there whose views definitely fit into the ‘frumpy’ category, and they wear the same ‘safe’ style every season (sorry ladies, but you are out there!). Loyal to M & S , as it’s their comfort zone, and so they are listened to. I’ve often come away disappointed with the clothes I’ve seen – it doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy from there. I also think they’ve skimped on the quality of the fabrics and finish of the clothes, in order to hit the right price points.
    When you get to our age, we want to follow trends (but not high fashion) and want quality and endurance from our wardrobe.
    Let’s hope the new Head Buyers and Designers at M & S get their act together, and draw us in!

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      May 20, 2014

      Totally agree Jan – it would be interesting to see a) their profile of their ideal customer and b) understand their buyers profile !

  10. Jan Foster

    May 20, 2014

    Maybe you should suggest a focus group made up of Fab after Fifty members Ceri – I would certainly support you with that……….it’s really frustrating that they won’t listen!

  11. Karen Standing

    May 20, 2014

    I used to like m&s but I agree every thing is so frumpy I am 52 and still like to look good try the Tulchan website lovely colourful clothes and good white t-shirts they do 3 collections of lovely mix and match up pieces at a reasonable price .

  12. Anne Stormont

    May 20, 2014

    Yes to all of the above. I used to love M&S. But now with muddled store layout, messy displays and poor quality, I’m disillusioned with them. And their sizings are all over the place. Nowadays I go to John Lewis and Next. It’s sad that they’ve so completely lost their way.

  13. Jacqui

    May 20, 2014

    I tried to leave negative feedback on the M & S website a year or so ago. I was specific, certainly non-abusive and honest, they wouldn’t publish it in the list of reviews and failed to give me a reason why.

  14. Sara

    May 20, 2014

    M&S used to be a staple for good quality clothes but no longer. They’ve sacrificed quality for cheap, acrylic instead of wool, plastic instead of leather. They have no idea what the 50+ woman wants! I don’t want frumpy, ruffled, boring, dull and poor quality. Their designs look about two years behind the rest of the High Street. Their buyers are way off. Interesting that Kate Bostock quit saying she couldn’t deal with the intransigence of the male ‘suits’ who run the place. I don’t bother going in now, I’m 50 and I shop in Boden, Whistles, White Company, Seasalt, Joules, among others. I wouldn’t touch M&S with a barge pole now. Staid, out of touch & too arrogant to listen.

  15. Liz Howells

    May 20, 2014

    I agree with all the comments and totally understand why M&S aren’t making a profit.
    Shoes, jewellery and certain accessories are still good but the clothes ….!!;
    Frumpy, horrible patterns; too many no or short sleeves (we live in the UK – how often do we need no sleeves??!!). Too much “trying to follow the trend” and not succeeding – e.g:- tops with a longer back than front. I hate them and I’m too old for them and if I did want them I can buy them cheaper in New Look.
    As has been said before – go back to what you’re good at – the classics.
    Your cashmere products are excellent quality but the designs and insipid colours let it down.
    Even your underwear isn’t what it was.
    Your nightwear used to be amazing. Now it’s just yet another mix of onesies or Bridget Jones pyjamas.
    Great for young girls but I loved (and still want) your nightdress/negligee sets.
    One other major thing is your online shopping – it’s not good.
    Delivery is not fast and as I live 20 miles away from my nearest store returns are a nightmare. We don’t all live in big cities.
    Offer the same superb service as Next and things could improve.
    I’ve grown up with, and always loved M&S but I really don’t know who you’re trying to appeal to any more – it’s certainly not me.
    It’s very sad.

  16. Gillian

    May 20, 2014

    How can M&S get it so wrong yet again? They went though this crisis some years ago then turned it around.

  17. Elizabeth Jasper

    May 21, 2014

    I’ve been living in Spain for almost 10 years and used to stock up on clothes when I visited the UK. I thought things would improve with the Spanish website, but no. Popular sizes are not available most of the time, the special offers are mixed up with all the other stuff so you have to trawl through hundreds of things you want to find them, delivery is DIRE, and clothes lack quality and style. I’m returning to the UK to live very soon and hope to find an improvement in the M&S stores.

    I’m 66 and while I’m not exactly a fashionista, I do like to look good. This is getting harder and harder with M&S. I long for them to bring back the classics for their core customers (women of a certain age), without cheap, tacky trimmings, with three-quarter sleeves, with sleek lines that skim but don’t pinch or bunch and with better quality fabrics. ESPECIALLY better quality fabrics! I don’t want cut-price cashmere. The cashmere knitwear is too short in the body and the colours insipid – not enough dark colours like grey/black/maroon/dark greens.

    There is hope – last winter I bought one of their close-fitting dresses (black background, contrasting panel down front) with a strong, elastic lining. I felt and looked amazing in it. Even my husband loved it. Not cheap, but I’d rather pay a bit more for something that good. More of this quality, please.

  18. Georgina Hadrill

    May 21, 2014

    If you are looking for good quality t shirts Petit Bateau have a fabulous range with varying necklines as do Cos and Whistles.
    Massimo Dutti and Zara also have great styling and Bodens on line store have an up to date selection .
    For shoes Lotte from Stockholm an on line store based in Twichenham have an amazing range of summer clog style sandles and for ultimate comfort Birkinstock are unbeatable.
    Marks and Spencer seem to have lost the plot , the confusing layout is a definitely a turn off , could it possibly be to encourage the customer to see more of the stock?
    Maybe Ceri should suggest that they look at this article for the answer to their failing returns.

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