A Solution (or 5) to the woes of Marks & Spencer

A Solution (or 5) to the woes of Marks & Spencer

In the spirit of 2019 goodwill, here are 5 straightforward insights that would definitely improve the fortunes of M&S...

What’s more, each has already been proven elsewhere to make shopping better for shoppers, better for brands & better for retailers.

We’ve all read the headlines regarding the woes of Marks & Spencer.

  • Overall, pre-tax profits tumbled by 17% to £176.5m on total sales down 2.1% to £4.86bn.
  • Like-for-like sales in clothing & home fell by 5.5% during the six months to 30 September, worse than an expected 4.3% drop.
  • Other’s talk of falling sales, inappropriate ranges & too many stores.

Experts from all quarters have waded in with their ‘No s**t Sherlock’ ground breaking insights including: 'M&S’s clothing ranges are confused', 'M&S has been missing the mark season after season' & 'The sector is evolving at an unprecedented pace & some of the deep-rooted challenges in the business are proving extremely challenging to resolve'. Let's stop discussing whats wrong and start to help make things right: Right for shoppers, & right for M&S.

So, in the spirit of 2019 goodwill, here are 5 straightforward insights that would definitely improve the fortunes of M&S. What’s more, each has already been proven elsewhere to make shopping better for shoppers, better for brands & better for retailers.

Although, in 20 years of working in shopper insight & behavioural science, I’ve never earned a bean out of M&S as a client, I’m giving these opportunities away for free, nadda, zip.

Seasons Greetings, Marks & Spencer.

1, Help shoppers to buy

Let’s start with a question: What is just about the easiest way to help shoppers buy more things? A surprisingly simple (to many) answer is to help them carry more to the checkouts.

Don’t hide the baskets just inside the store entrance (to one side). It takes shoppers a number of paces once in-store to acclimatise. When the baskets are by the entrance, shoppers walk right by, completely oblivious of them.

Baskets, ideally placed for those... ...leaving M&S

When a well-known retailer strategically located baskets in locations where shoppers actually had a need to carry stuff, for example, adjacent to bulky '3 for 2' promotions, subsequent average basket values increased by 51%.

2, Processing fluency

Staying on the subject of shopping baskets, here’s another proven way to help shoppers shop. Put the baskets on the right-hand side of approaching shoppers. As a species, 90% of humans are right-handed. This means that they find it mentally easier to pick up something, like an M&S basket, with their right hand.

Importantly, shoppers (as humans) misattribute the ease of thinking & doing things to liking those things more. When a wine brand oriented the glass in a poster advert towards right-handers, their share of sales increased by 32%

3, Room to shop

Humans are hardwired to be primarily concerned with what I term the '4 Fs': Fight, Flight, Feed & Fornication. Every sensory stimulus a shopper experiences, from what they see to what they hear, smell, touch & taste, is initially processed in relation to the 4 Fs. Should I fight it, flee from it, is of something to feed on or can I fornicate with it.

One of the many direct consequences of this human hard-wiring is that the physical widths of the spaces through which we travel influence both our propensity to enter them in the first place & the speed at which we travel through them.

Are the aisles in Primark any wider?

What this means in-store is that shoppers are less likely to enter narrow or crowded aisles, & if they do, they will travel through them faster the narrower the walkways are (and the higher the shelving too).

Within M&S, the aisles in the clothing departments are less than half the widths of the aisles in the food halls. Could this have a bearing on why clothing sales are dropping, but food sales are on the up? One thing is for certain, the clothing aisles are too narrow for shoppers to browse, comfortably.

4, What’s in a face

Getting the attention of shoppers always has been & always will be a key aspect of in-store activity. Thanks to evolution, we as a species are hard-wired to be social. Whenever we spot another human or group of humans, we immediately look to see which F they are most likely to be. One of the most powerful detection devices we use is the face or faces of people we see. Focusing in part on the eyes & mouth, we instinctively look to see if they are friend, foe, food or potential…

In summary, faces of other humans are disproportionately impactful in grabbing the attention of shoppers; & let’s not even start to talk about facial expressions, Duchenne smiles & the like. Within the clothing halls of M&S there are many, many images of other people, which is good. But many of them don’t look towards the shopper (which is bad) & in some images, the faces are even hidden (which is really bad)

The most appealing thing for a person to look at is the face of another human, why hide them just to be moody?

5, A weighty opportunity

Finally, as we age we tend to put on weight. According to the NHS, the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese increases with age among both men & women. It is highest among men aged between 45 & 74 (78% across these age groups), & women aged between 65 & 74 (73%). In summary, many middle aged (and older) shoppers aren’t skinny.

How many M&S shoppers would want these?

Headlining with ‘Skinny fit’ & ‘Tailored fit’ is precisely what many M&S shoppers don’t want. More of us want the ‘Look 2 stone lighter’ range or the ‘Smaller looking bum’ range. Just because the YouTube influencers look like they need a good meal, doesn’t mean that M&S should target their clothing ranges towards them.

In summary, it's time for M&S to meet real shopper needs: Not those rationalised platitudes they rattle on about in focus groups, but their deeply rooted implicit, & emotional needs.

There you have it, 5 practical, quick wins, being gifted to M&S. Each proven to impact the bottom line. Taking a marginal gains approach, if each of these initiatives improved business performance by just 1%, the result would be an additional £7,000,000 in sales. Not to even consider that some of these tactics might improve performance by 10%, 20% or even more (as they have proven to do so previously).

Incidentally, during my 20 years plus of analysing the behaviour & psychology of shoppers & consumers I have amassed an arsenal in excess of 1,500 specific tactics & strategies, each proven to make retailing better for shoppers, brands & retailers.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

If you think there is value in this article then please, please share it, thank you.

Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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