Belfast Telegraph

Marks and Spencer left in the lurch by Primark

By Donald C McFetridge

Earlier this month two of the most important retailers on the high street reported trading statistics which demonstrated how far apart they are in terms of retail success.

On the one hand, Primark announced a sales rise of 17% in what it described as a "magnificent" year, while Marks & Spencer (for the 13th consecutive quarter) had to admit defeat in the clothing stakes.

While Marc Bolland tried to put gloss on the M&S half-yearly results, it clearly is still all far from well in the clothing aisles of their vast estate of retail outlets.

Many analysts - myself included - remain uncertain about who the core M&S customer really is.

It, too, seems to be equally uncertain, because its branding is unclear, with far too many sub-brands leading to too much diffusion in its fashion departments.

What is certain is that its core customer is no longer the 49-year-old female who its seems typically to be still targeting.

Over at Primark, meanwhile, it's got its finger on the pulse. It knows how to market to a wide demographic in all age groups and right across all socio-economic groupings.

It is constantly adding to its floorspace and has recently taken Paris by storm, with more stores planned for other European cities.

Marks & Spencer needs to take several lessons out of the Primark manual, which are:

  • Sort out its branding.
  • Decide which demographic it is targeting.
  • Focus on particular age groups within particular product categories.
  • Choose who its target customer group is now and who it's going to be in 2015.

It will need to do all these things if it is to retain its position as one of the leading bellwethers of retailing.

It will take more than tinsel and fairy lights to put the real magic and sparkle back into the Marks & Spencer brand.

There are no shortcuts - and there are no easy fixes.

Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster Business School, University of Ulster

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