M&S has again been the topic of discussion within the retail industry, and for once, the conversation has been more generally positive in recognising ‘green shoots’ of progress in one part of its business at least – M&S Food.
A series of trading updates suggested that performance at M&S Food – for a long time the one part of the business that’s demonstrated sustained growth – was beginning to stall. But now it’s undergoing a somewhat radical and timely shakeup of its proposition and in-store formula.
Part of its new food strategy has seen M&S draft in new leadership to spearhead change and stimulate fresh action, with much-respected former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King joining the business along with Stuart Machin from Australia’s number two grocer Coles. As a company, M&S has never been comfortable in taking big risks with its proposition, typically applying selective ‘nips and tucks’ to its in-store strategy. But with this kind of leadership firepower at play that appears to be changing.
“… the rallying cry seems to have been ‘to go bigger, bolder and louder’…”
So what has M&S been up to in with its new concept food stores?
In recent weeks, two ‘new generation’ stores have broken cover. The first, the reopening its previous Hempstead Valley branch, was quickly followed by its Clapham store in Battersea, which reopened to great fanfare (complete with in-store DJ). After attending both openings, it’s easy to see how many of the ideas initially launched within the Hempstead Valley store have been further amplified in Clapham – the rallying cry seems to have been ‘to go bigger, bolder and louder’ here.
It is immediately clear that with both product offer and the aesthetic ‘look and feel’ in-store is the extent to which M&S have considered the customer profile for this location. Clapham is an affluent area and one that’s busy with commuters. Those that live here border on hip…but not too hip to shop in M&S. Fittingly, this store seems like a hybrid of M&S and Whole Foods Market that will appeal to customers who want to make ‘the right choices’ when spending their money but want high levels of convenience. The commuter shopper has a huge range of choices with packaged ready meals from the ‘Market Deli’, to the home cooked convenience of fresh meal kits. And if there’s no time or inclination to even put the oven on at home, that’s catered for too.
In what it hopes will be a new chapter of success, M&S is also on a mission to try and get more of the family shop and broaden the appeal of its food offer – championing its ‘foodie’ and service credentials while underpinning a new drive to everyday value that’s more accessible to all. Change is in the air. M&S no longer sees its food business as specialist, for treating, for special occasions – but for families and the everyday. Getting a bigger share of the ‘everyday quality’ grocery shop, both instore and online is firmly the direction of travel for M&S.
“It’s a great example of future thinking…”
There is also a marked move towards showcasing sustainability and environmental solutions. Within artificially lit, hydroponic system greenhouses, herbs are literally grown in front of shoppers. Meanwhile, reduced packaging gives the freshest products possible. It’s a great example of future thinking and represents one of many ‘interactive and sensory’ features M&S is deploying to make its food shops of the future ‘cut through’ the standard fayre.
Overall the look and feel of the store has been updated. A darker colour palette is used instead of the stark white of older M&S food halls. This gives a ‘cosier’ more intense look but the space actually feels much larger. Wider aisles and the addition of lower fixtures at the front of the store maximise the layered ‘arena effect’. Large format navigational signage creates an easy shopping experience and gives visibility to the full range on offer. Bold LED category signage nods to street food markets and a more urban feel, although this seems at odds with the look of the rest of the store. POS is quirky, informal but informative and there is much more of it than you would expect to see used within a typical M&S Food store. This creates a ‘noisier’ less exclusive atmosphere, but this too is intentional.
In all, the new store format represents a significant and positive change in the right direction, albeit one that will require deep pockets to rollout the changes more widely across the estate, and at pace.
Click here to see more images of the new M&S Food store in Clapham.