Advantages Widely available stores
Disadvantages Poor quality clothes, poor value
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The news that Marks & Spencer were pulling out of a charity event in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness supported by Olympic athlete Denise Lewis is the latest in a catalogue of public relations disasters by the once-great store. The excuse that the charity was also supported by a rival store group (The House Of Fraser) is appallingly insensitive as it indicates that the stores motives in its charitable support were entirely on self-promotion.Ten years ago Marks and Spencer was the pre-eminent shopping name. A tradition based on local supply, high quality and value had served it well for decades. Marks and Spencer now is a complete mess. Its appalling treatment of its suppliers has drawn very unfavourable publicity as those who had contracts with M&S saw their profit margins completely squeezed out. When those suppliers could no longer make further cost cuts, that is, job number reductions, they had their contracts summarily terminated and more and more contracts placed overseas. The switch overseas has had an enormously detrimental impact on clothing quality and for too long M&S tried to sell shoddy second rate products at the quality prices they had got used to.
M&S completely took their customers for granted and assumed they would remain loyal whatever the products, particularly clothing, were like. It was however not just the quality that was wrong but the fashions themselves were dated and their response to changes in fashion trends was always too slow. The market in womens clothes has polarised dramatically in recent years with the designer label at the top end and discount value chains both being very successful. This was where the market was but M&S ploughed on in the dying middle segment.For many years M&S did not even feel the need to advertise and when they did return thought it would be a good idea to tell us they now understood that many women were above size 16. It may have taken an average lady to sprint naked across a hill-side for the buyers at M&S to notice but this was apparent to everyone else on the high street and they had stocked accordingly.
M&S has been more successful in food retailing but here too they have been caught by the top supermarkets and their convenience ranges. They have also diversified into financial services like stakeholders pensions and ISAs as have many of the supermarket groups. This probably helps support the total business but ultimately M&S should be about clothes retailing.Well, actually no, that is not the full position. Many competitive organisations realise the value of being seen to be socially aware and responsible, to be part of the community they are situated in. If the largest retailer of bras cannot support a charity concerned with breast cancer then you have to wonder who is in charge of their PR. A man perhaps?
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