M& S is generally regarded as a store in decline from its halcyon days of being the flagship retail, high street outlet. Several reasons are suggested for this: its failure over the last few years to create and deliver popular lines of ladies fashion; its internet resource; problems of distribution from its Castle Donnington warehouse.
My view is more simple: it has failed to respond to the challenges of the times and because of this is out of kilter with its existing clientele and failed to attract a new one. A recent shopping experience of my own confirmed this.
I attended at my local store and purchased 3 non-iron shirts. In passing I was struck by the number of sale items. It seems to me that this was not so much an attempt to attract customers as a clearance of too much stock through over-ordering. At the till I explained to the lady that – as I was travelling to and from London – was it possible to leave the items for collection? She therefor tagged my name to the bag and explained I should go to the car collection point. On returning some 8 hours later the car collection explained that they do not keep such items there but I should go to customer services in-store. At customer services I was told that not only did they not have the items but had no idea where they were. Two senior employees went off to search. After 15 minutes, I explained I could wait no longer and left them my card. I was called to say they had found the bag but the problem was I asked for a service, i.e. retention and collection, that they do not provide for clothes but only food or bulky items. It seems odd that they cannot offer such a service but anyway missed the crucial point that I had explained the problem of not wanting to carry the items and the assistant suggested the solution. I frequently shop at John Lewis and Waitrose, stores renowned for their helpful staff. I am quite sure this problem would not have arisen there. After all collection of 3 such shirts bought over the internet would be possible. On a deeper level the M &S experience reflects a company out of touch with a regular customer. A better response might be
” Technically we are not allowed to retain it, but as we know you shop a lot here, we will keep them at the till but please collect them today “: accommodating, appreciative, resolving .
At the customer services desk they passed the blame to me for asking for a non-existent service, a better response might be an offer to refund or replace. When I made it clear that I intended to complain and never to visit the store again I was soothed by a £20 gift token which I appreciated but would have preferred to pick up the items smoothly not hang around and make two journeys.
Of course all of this would have been avoided by an internet purchase and store collection. I still prefer to see an item physically for its colour and design and there were time implications too.
The whole episode reflected poor staffing and response; inadequate collection services; failure to meet reasonable customer expectation. Until M & S get these basics right I predict further decline.