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Beauty at Marks & Spencer


M&S might not be an aggressive retailer in the business of beauty but the brand has a growing number of loyal customers who swear by its beauty products. ibob gives an overview of the beauty segment at M&S stores.

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The beauty section of Marks & Spencer has been consistently garnering space in the stores of the UK- based brand. In India, its loyal customer base has been successfully growing at a steady pace. This has been especially evident in the last three years as Marks & Spencer has worked the Indian market in association with Reliance India Pvt Ltd. Mark Ashman, has spent the last three years as CEO Marks & Spencer Reliance India Pvt Ltd. Just before he returns to UK as Regional Managing Director for Europe and Middle East, he talks to ibob about the progress the brand has made in these three years and its outlook for the future.

How has the response been to the beauty segment at Marks & Spencer stores?
We only sell the Marks&Spencer brand in our stores. As a percentage of our total sales, our beauty product sales are relatively high, which is reflected by the broad appeal of our product range to the Indian consumer.

What is the challenge in promoting this better?
The challenge is that all are beauty products are imported, and for that we have to charge a premium. However, we are working hard to ensure that compared to other imported beauty products, we still represent great value and quality.

What are the big sellers in this segment?
The big sellers are the Eau de Toilettes, the Autograph and Harvard Men’s’ toiletries ranges and the Royal Jelly Collection. We offer a range of products that is unique; you cannot buy these product anywhere except Marks & Spencer.

How has M&S customized itself especially for the Indian market?
When we first started out (two years ago), we went into everything – styling detail, color palette and pack size for India. We expanded our range of 395 men`s polo shirts to 16 colors while the equivalent range in the UK only had four colors, we now also have 12 for women. We have also made other India-specific changes such as sleeve length, neck lines, taken t-shirts down a little over the hip instead of finishing at the waist. One has to understand the market and make changes according to the need.
Another example is that only a selected number of men`s shirts in the UK have a pocket. Whereas in India, 85 percent of them have one – it is a need for Indian men. In the UK we sell socks in packs of seven. Here, we found that didn`t work – we sell them in singles and offer a deal on a purchase of five. The seven-pair socks pack initially sold at Rs.995, now our stores offer a `make your own selection` and buy five for 500 deal. More choice for less money whilst always ensuring that the famous Marks & Spencer quality is always there.

Has it been difficult for a traditional brand like M&S to do this?
It`s not rocket science, but it`s been a big step for M&S. So far the philosophy was that you choose the range and make the country fit it. We`re working on a different model here.

Your new stores are much bigger in size – is that important for the new positioning?
One of the discussions we have frequently is: `Why not bigger stores?` Traditionally, we would open stores of 50,000 square feet each, but we found that the infrastructure would really dictate the size of the store. The metro cities have been a priority for us from the beginning but it doesn`t mean we stop there. We have done two deals in Pune and Chandigarh and we are still looking at Lucknow. Most of the stores we are looking at are between 15,000 to 25,000 square feet – a lot bigger than the 5,000 square foot stores, which were earlier opened by our franchisee.

What is your vision for India?
M&S has an opportunity to be a significant retailer in India, and our plan is to open a million square feet of retail space in India by the time we are five years old in the country. The important thing for us is to watch and plan our position correctly. People want to spend on what is more aspirational, their needs should be met. Our brand proposition puts us in a good place to deliver that. India is a unique position for both organized and unorganized retail to see significant growth over the coming years.