I was anxious to stop by and take a look at the Marks and Spencer outlet that opened last October on Nanjing West Road in the heart of Puxi in Shanghai. I had the opportunity in between business meetings last Monday to take a look and unfortunately I was very unimpressed. M&S has a great name in the UK retailing industry and I have always been a fan of their reasonably priced clothes and great prepared meals. Their Hong Kong stores have always been a great disappointment to me and it seems that they are starting off in China by cloning a similar format – namely catering to the expatriate population and foreign tourists.

First, Shanghai has always been known for the fashion sense of its citizens and the M&S store gives them no reason to return. Yes, the clothes are reasonably priced – slightly more than Hong Kong – but the style is very bland and not up to the local’s expectations. Moreover, there appears to be no attempt to retail clothes that are suitable for the Chinese figure. Everything I looked at was for the typical European shopper. Go into any Zara or H&M outlet in China and you will find well merchandised fashionable clothing with local sizes. Is that too much to expect from a large international retailer like M&S? From the storefront display below, one can assume that the store merchandising strategy is proving less successful than originally anticipated.

m&s

At least you would think they would get the food right since the food hall is such a part of the success model in the UK. I found just the usual stuff you find in Hong Kong – nuts, chocolates, wine, some frozen and canned food and a small bakery. When you consider what is currently available in the Shanghai market to local Chinese consumers, the M&S display is clearly underwhelming. Right down the street is a very impressive Bakery Cafe called 85 Degree Cafe – a successful chain from Taiwan. Nice merchandising, well presented local bakery items and reasonably priced drinks. See the picture below.

Now look at the M&S bakery that is right nearby. Where would you rather shop!

I think that M&S can be successful in China but they need to gut this shop and start all over again. Here are three things they can do to get back on track.

First, build a great food hall that will “wow” Chinese customers. Let’s have lots of sampling of food items that people cannot get elsewhere. Breads, cheeses, spreads, meat pies, etc. Give the Chinese some great High Street food hall experiences! Think of Harrods for the common man!

Second, start selling some smart looking fashionable clothing. Bring in some young British and Chinese designers and create something new and fresh. And while you are at it please get the sizing right!

Third, wow the Shanghainese with great customer service! This was actually a bright spot of my visit. There is a core here of good people but they are bored given the lack of foot traffic.

Finally, fire the people who built and managed this store and get your best and brightest in the UK to work with some great Chinese mangers to set this ship right. It can be done but it might take a swift kick up the ass by the Chairman to make it happen! Are you listening London?


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