M&S has finally realised the benefits that third-party brands could bring to its floundering clothing division as it expands its partnerships to include Joules, Seasalt, Hobbs and Phase Eight, as well as the purchase of Jaeger, but this is years too late. In a recurring theme for M&S, other retailers have pipped it to the post and reaped the benefits of having a wide range of brands online, namely ASOS and Next. In fact, all four new brands are available on Next’s website, minimising the benefits this strategy can bring to M&S, with only Seasalt and Joules to be stocked in M&S stores.
Some of these new brands have the potential to help boost the company’s fortunes, notably, Nobody’s Child and Ghost, both of which will attract a new, younger shopper to M&S with their stylish dresses and modern, feminine prints (though hardly in demand during lockdown), especially Nobody’s Child given its focus on sustainability. Though the collaboration with Ghost focused on unique styles exclusive to M&S, which should have helped to drive sales, Nobody’s Child’s younger shoppers are more likely to purchase the brand from ASOS as it has a better online proposition and is more of a destination for that demographic. These two brands are only available on M&S’ website but stocking these brands in stores would have more impact as it would boost customer awareness and bring a new spark to M&S’ often drab stores. This would also benefit shoppers by giving them somewhere to try the brands’ products on and test the quality of items, as currently, Nobody’s Child is an online pureplay and Ghost only has one physical location. Though the addition of lifestyle brands Joules and Seasalt will give some excitement to M&S’ stores and draw in new shoppers, Joules’ strength lies in its own online offer and both are already stocked by rivals Next and John Lewis & Partners.
Hobbs and Phase Eight will do little to provide a much-needed boost to M&S’ clothing sales, with their core customers a similar demographic to that of M&S, their premium prices and more formal styles out of favour in the current climate, and their lack of a unique, compelling product offer. The future success of M&S’ purchase of Jaeger is also dubious for the same reasons, and the brand will be costly to turn around. M&S should review Jaeger’s pricing architecture to make it more affordable and in line with M&S’ prices while creating more exciting designs with sustainable fabrics will help boost brand appeal.
For this brand partnership strategy to have a noticeable impact on the company’s clothing sales, it should have been introduced years ago as the competition is now very strong. When shoppers look for branded clothing online their first ports of call are ASOS and Next, and M&S’ digital offer cannot compete with these players as it is still playing catch-up. Nobody’s Child and Ghost are the standouts in its current brand offer, and for this strategy to be fruitful more players like this need to be launched and showcased by the retailer both instore and online. Players with little presence elsewhere would provide the best results, but these are in short supply, with ideal, trendy brands such as Sosandar and Hush already sold by M&S’ rivals.