Significant customization and localization of the product line to suit the unique Indian preferences and customer budgets is an essential part of Marks & Spencer’s marketing strategy in India, the apparel retailer’s CEO in the country, Martin Jones, has told IndiaRetailing.com in an exclusive chat.
An example of this customization is the realization by the company that colors are very important for Indian customers. This has led it to introduce three times the number of color options of polo shirts in India compared to the UK. “We have also learnt how styles are different in India, so we have put pockets on shirts, as we know jackets are rarely worn here,” he said.
The company has also made changes to its pack sizes compared to the UK. Instead of offering seven pairs of men’s socks, as it does in the UK, Marks & Spencer sells them in singles in India. Women’s knickers are sold in packs of three here compared to packs of seven in the West.
”Indian consumers are evolved in terms of fashion. They are aware of the global trends and looking for options at great value,” Jones said. To ensure Marks and Spencer offers the right products at the right price to India customers, the company is sourcing over half of its products from local Indian suppliers. “Through increasing our local sourcing, we have been able to adapt some of our clothing ranges to better suit the Indian tastes as well as align our prices,” he added.
Due to localization, Marks & Spencer can offer competitive prices to customers, selling polo T-shirts from Rs 395, kids’ polos from Rs 245, chinos from Rs 1,499 and women’s stretch denims from Rs 1,195. “We have developed strong relationships with our local supply base and are now able to ‘stretch the seasons’ – which means we can have early availability on linen product to cater for our customers in January in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad whilst still selling knitwear in Delhi,” said Jones.
The company is also sourcing products from India to sell abroad. For example, all polyester trousers on sale in the Marks & Spencer stores in the UK in both menswear and womenswear are now sourced in a poly-viscose fabric produced in India. “The fabric is more suitable for the British climate and we can offer our customers a market leading price due to lower garment cost prices being achieved through local sourcing. This gives us the same great design in the right fabric weight for our customer at a price cheaper than our competitors,” Jones said.
Marks & Spencer entered the Indian market in 2001 as part of a franchise agreement. In 2008, it entered into a joint-venture agreement with Reliance Retail to expand its Indian operations. This has helped the company open larger stores, such as Express Avenue which is an impressive 20,000 sq. ft. “The joint-venture has also been useful in realigning our prices by increasing local sourcing and tailoring Marks & Spencer’s products to suit the Indian customers,” Jones said. Marks & Spencer now has 22 stores in India in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Amritsar, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.
The company’s Indian customer base consists of people in the age bracket of 25 to 35 years who travel regularly and are in touch with global fashion trends. In the last financial year, the company sold over 74,000 locally sourced polo t-shirts for men and women, around 70,000 packs of knickers (in sets of three), over 19,000 cross-over bras, and 40,000 locally sourced women’s shirts in the country.
Jones said the biggest challenges for Marks & Spencer in India include expensive retail space and opening new stores which are affordable.