Marks & Spencer woos customers with major store revamp

Marks and Spencer is planning big changes to its stores to help turn around its decline in popularity over the past few years.

In an effort to improve its dowdy image, it's introducing so-called Welcome Zones at the entrance to each shop, highlighting the latest trends and most popular lines. The aim is to boost sales of its Autumn/Winter womenswear collections, currently featuring in the 'Leading Ladies' marketing campaign.

The 80 largest stores will see a reorganisation of the way coats, dresses and knitwear are displayed, giving each category its own defined area - gone are the days of wandering from one branded section to another in search of a grey sweater. Three stores will trial a new accessories and footwear section, complete with an 'inspiration station' that offers advice on coordinating accessories. The company's even sent all 10,000 of its womenswear staff on a special fashion boot camp.

"We have invested in the quality and style of our products; we have reinvigorated our marketing strategy with the launch of our Britain's Leading Ladies campaign and we have refreshed our womenswear environment," says Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of marketing and business development.

"We hope that the in store changes that we are showcasing today, coupled with our newly trained 10,000 Fashion Camp graduates, will help us deliver exactly what our customers want and expect from M&S – high quality, stylish products and world class customer service."

The company's research indicates that customers spend on average 24 minutes in the store; but this doesn't give the full picture. While some spend a long time browsing the many departments, others simply walk in, glance around, and walk straight out again. While the company's seen an improvement in its food sales since chief executive Marc Bolland joined three years ago from supermarket chain Morrisons, clothing sales have continued to decline. According to retail analyst Verdict Research, its share of the womenswear market fell from 16 percent in 1997 to just 11 percent last year - despite the fact that it added more than a million square feet of new clothing space during that time.

But will the changes be enough to win customers over? Kate Ormrod, a retail analyst with Verdict, believes so.

"They need to showcase the new products and show them in the best light possible in the stores. They need to make the space easier to browse and give customers a sense of discovery," she says.

"This push with womenswear is crucial, as the run-up to Christmas is a peak trading period, and the fashion press has been really impressed. They need to make sure that some key single products like that pink coat are easy for customers to find."

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