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Marks & Spencer: Making headways

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Marks & Spencer collaborated with Reliance Retail to open up stores in India way back in 2008. The latest store to come up in Mumbai’s upscale Bandra West is spread over 35,000 sq. ft. and is a shoppers delight as it has just about everything a woman might fancy.

Arvind Singhal, Chairman, Technopak, says, “Marks & Spencer (M&S) has been inexplicably conservative in its ambition in India so far. However, as the success of some other relatively new entrants like Zara have demonstrated, M&S should consider becoming more aggressive and ambitious about its business in India, and should consider becoming more adventurous and trendsetting when it comes to its merchandising and the overall look and experience of its stores in India.”

That very much sets the context for our story. Throughout its existence, M&S as a brand has known to extend a bit of sophistication and the legacy has well continued over the years. Since M&S formed its joint venture partnership with Reliance Retail in 2008, the  retailer has built a solid platform to accelerate its growth in India. Since April 2013, M&S has opened seven stores in India, doubling its presence in Mumbai and entering the cities of Kochi and Vadodara for the fi rst time. M&S today has 36 stores, trading from a total of over 500,000 sq. ft. As part of the retailer’s plans to take its business in India to the next level, M&S will open a further 8 stores by the end of March 2014, followed by 36 more outlets in the next 2 years.

The Partnership

Commenting on the collaboration with Reliance in 2008, Venu Nair, Managing Director, Marks & Spencer Reliance shares, “Under our previous franchise partnership, we were positioned as a premium retailer with small stores carrying limited products at high prices. Through our partnership, we’ve made a lot of progress since 2008. We have been able to open newer and larger stores, close smaller stores, roll out our new store format and align our pricing. We have also introduced new product ranges including our kidswear offer.” Adding further, he shares, “We are working closely with Reliance Retail and have set a clear plan to build a leadership position in India.”

India Strategy

Adding to what Nair shared, Marc Bolland, Chief Executive, M&S spoke on the brand’s perspective on the Indian market and what makes them consider India as being the most important market for them after the UK. Bolland shares, “India is a priority market for M&S and working closely with our partner Reliance Retail, we have set a clear plan to build a leadership position here. As the nation’s leading retailer operator, Reliance Retail is the perfect partner for us in India with extensive local expertise and experience, with strengths in infrastructure, logistics, technology and property. This combined with M&S’s brand loyalty and exceptional quality as well as stylish products, has seen us continue to deliver strong double-digit growth in India. Now, with 36 stores, we have the ideal platform to accelerate our growth in the market and see India become our largest international market outside the UK by 2016.”

Talking about the catalogue selection based on the preference of the Indian consumer, Nair shares, “Our buying and merchandising team in India select products from the global catalogue keeping in mind the trends of the season, Indian sensibilities and the weather conditions in the country. Key high-fashion pieces from the global catalogue are also bought for the Indian market.”

Marketing and Expansion Plans

Shares Nair, “Our marketing objective is to position M&S as a stylish, aspirational yet accessible lifestyle retailer. We aim to ensure a consistent communication with consumers for a cohesive consumerjourney right from external marketing to our store windows and in-store communication. While we use conventional media, we have been exploring new age media as well to reach out to our consumers in an engaging manner. We now have around 109,800 Facebook fans. Our store windows provide an engaging experience for our consumers as they shop at our stores.

We organise unique activities to celebrate new store openings. For example, to celebrate the opening ofour store in Lokhandwala Mumbai, we held a fashion show on the streets of Mumbai. At other store opening, we invite celebrities to inaugurate our store, such as Rima Kallingal who visited our store in Kochi and Radhika Pandit who visited our store at Kormangala, Bengaluru. We have a robust advertising, social media and PR plan in place.”

According to Bolland the company will continue working in close partnership with Reliance Retail. It plans to target around 80 stores in India by 2016, focus on building a leadership position in the country, including cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, by opening a cluster of supporting stores around its flagship store locations such as its new store in Bandra. Bolland also share that the brand is looking to expanding into attractive secondary cities such as Surat and Kanpur.

In addition to its growing store presence, M&S has an established sourcing operation in India and South Asia, which supports its growing business in the Indian and international

market. Of all M&S’s general merchandise products sold around the globe are made in the region, whilst 64 percent of M&S products sold in India are sourced from local suppliers. Bolland shares that the local sourcing has allowed M&S to tailor its products to the Indian market and ensure its pricing remains competitive. For example, local sourcing has allowed M&S to stretch the seasons to offer linen products in India all year round. M&S sells over half a million pieces of linen clothing every year in India, accounting for 15 percent of sales.

Biggest Store in India

With the soft launch in October 2013 followed by a glamorous official launch recently, M&S has managed to grab quite a few eyeballs with its biggest store in India in Bandra, Mumbai’s youth-centric area. Spread over 35,000 sq. ft. the store has for the first time introduced a dedicated floor to retail its beauty and lingerie range.

Sharing more details on this, Nair says, “Trading from 35,000 sq. ft. over five floors, M&S Hill Road, Bandra is the largest store in India with its most extensive range of exceptional quality and stylish products including over 300 exclusive products, such as the Savile Row Inspired collection and Per Una Speziale. We have also come up with the world’s fi rst M&S lingerie and beauty department, which features make-up, too.”

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