M&S supermarket strategy: Retailer shifts focus from fashion to food

Deborah Williams 18 March 2019 (Last Updated March 18th, 2019 15:20)

UK retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has announced it plans to open a chain of larger, supermarket-style shops that will focus on food in an attempt to appeal to families for their weekly shop, according to a Mail on Sunday report.

M&S supermarket strategy: Retailer shifts focus from fashion to food
M&S supermarket strategy: Retailer shifts focus from fashion to food. Credit: Suzy Hazelwood via Flickr

UK retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has announced it plans to open a chain of larger, supermarket-style shops that will focus on food in an attempt to appeal to families for their weekly shop, according to a Mail on Sunday report.

M&S aims to revamp its image from a store for ‘singles and couples’ buying smaller baskets of food in top-up shops to getting more customers filling up their trolleys for their main shop.

The M&S supermarket strategy was revealed in a letter sent to its grocery suppliers. It will see existing stores redesigned with clothing areas transformed into grocery areas stocked with broader food selections.

The news follows the retailer’s joint venture with UK online supermarket Ocado to launch an online grocery platform in the UK.

M&S food managing director Stuart Machin reportedly wrote in the letter: “We have over 6,500 lines… we just don’t get them in front of enough customers.”

Analysts report that the M&S supermarket plans are likely to ‘further intensify the rivalry with Waitrose.’

GlobalData retail analyst Thomas Brereton said: “It is understandable that M&S Food’s managing director Stuart Machin is looking to expand the food side of the business. Over the last decade, M&S has increasingly relied on its food division as its clothing and home side has suffered, with food now responsible for 61% of group sales – up from 52% in 2009.

“However, simply offering a full range of food products in more stores will not instantly convert into sales. It will take time for the new proposition to resonate with target consumers, who are more used to shopping at other ‘premium’ players, such as Waitrose or Sainsbury’s for the mainstay of their grocery shops. Only 2% of shoppers currently do their full shop at M&S and it will be an uphill challenge to convince others to switch from their usual supermarkets – even with M&S’s concurrent focus on reducing prices and providing value.

“It is also an unusual decision to redistribute investment towards larger spaces; average store size at the larger supermarkets has been falling over recent years following the repositioning of store portfolios to focus on closer, smaller shops, to capitalise on the growing demand for convenience.

“It is not necessarily the wrong move for M&S for the long term; rather, it is an onerous task to juggle expanding food space and ensuring the joint venture with Ocado is correctly managed, while also convincing shoppers of a new ‘value’ premise that contrasts with M&S’s long-standing premium reputation.”