Can tennis get M&S the desired customer attention?

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MS LogoIt has been a decade since UK’s leading retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) first set its foot on the Indian street. But unfortunately the brand has been struggling to find its feet in the country and place in the consumer mind space. While many global brands that entered around the same time or after M&S, have raced ahead of it.

Considered early as a premium-priced ‘unaffordable’ brand, M&S made a shift in its strategy to focus on the mid-premium segment. Later it also tied up with Reliance Retail to give sales a push. Also what didn’t help M&S was its low promotional activity.
To give reinforced impetus to make its presence felt, M&S has come on board as the ‘Official Fashion Show Partner’ of India’s only ATP World Tour championship, the Aircel Chennai Open 2013.

During the tournament, M&S will host a fashion evening showcasing its “on-trend stylish and fashionable pieces”.

Legendary tennis player, Vijay Amritraj, will play the master of ceremonies, in Chennai, on December 30. A number of ATP players too are expected to hit the runway showcasing M&S’ range of merchandise.

Venu Nair, Managing Director, Marks & Spencer India

Venu Nair, Managing Director, Marks & Spencer India

Venu Nair, Managing Director, Marks & Spencer India, says, “We’re looking forward to showcase our latest stylish and innovative fashion collection to tennis fans across India. This will be a perfect way to kick off 2013, an exciting year for M&S India.”

The 18th edition of Aircel Chennai Open has one of the strongest playing fields ever, featuring an impressive line-up of tennis players including top 20 players Tomas Berdych, Janko Tipsarevic, Marin Cilic and Stanislas Wawrinka among others. Both Indian and International participants will compete for the coveted title.

The ‘feel’ factor
A major problem with Marks & Spencer has been the experience. Many customers who have experienced M&S stores globally felt the experience wasn’t the same in India. M&S allowed its franchise partner Planet Retail to open stores of 5,000-8,000 square feet area in India against the global standard of 15,000 square feet plus.

More recently, the retailer has increased local sourcing of products to over 40 per cent, as against 10-20 per cent a few years back. It aims to increase the local sourcing up to 70 per cent in the next few years. This has helped M&S to bring down its prices and lure customers to the stores. But experts feel that this is a double edged sword as it is affecting the quality of products in the M&S stores. M&S, however, acknowledges Indian customers’ exposure to the global fashion brands and it believes that consumers can easily differentiate between the the quality at M&S stores and others.

Stiff competition
M&S faces stiff competition from global brands like Benetton, Zara, Tommy Hifiger, Mango, etc as well as Indian retailers.
Then there are others such as Diesel, Promod, S Oliver, Guess, and Next among others, who are fighting hard for the pie. Meanwhile, Espirit too has cut down its prices intensifying the competition.

In such a competitive landscape, conquering consumers’ heart as well as her wallet is going to be a tough task for M&S.
The shift in M&S strategy over the last couple of years to focus on mid market and repositioning as a mid-premium retailer has helped the brand to improve on its footfalls (The company refused to divulge specific numbers). However, will these efforts help M&S become profitable over the next few years? Experts feel it is premature to comment on that. But a lot will depend upon the brands’ understanding of the Indian market and how quickly it adapts to the same.

For the record, M&S currently has 24 stores located in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Amritsar, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.

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Neeta Nair

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