M&S Selling Named Brands – One Has to Ask Why.

Marks & Spencer said that they were responding to customer feedback as they announced recently that for the first time since the 1950’s it would be selling branded (non M&S) goods in their stores. But is this really a move in response to customer opinion or is it actually a response to the recession; giving customers what they want – regardless of the fact that their USP has always been that they never sold anything other than their own quality-assured goods – for the sake of driving sales?

M&S are introducing 400 big brands including Marmite, Kit Kat, PG Tips and Jameson Irish whiskey.  According to John Dixon, M&S’ executive director of food, he and his team are team “are focused on delivering the best that M&S Food can offer — innovative products that provide unbeatable quality and great value. But there are some products that we could simply never compete with.”

Following a trial conducted last year, in which the branded goods were supplied in store, Marks decided to roll the idea out into their stores after it proved to be a hit. According to Stuart Rose, “The idea is if you want a favourite brand you can buy it, I’m a Tabasco sauce fan myself, so I’d like to buy the brand in our stores. That’s what the customers said they wanted and if the customers want they get it. We used to sell branded products in the 1930s and then again in the 1950s when we went own brand. It just shows how the trade has evolved and come full circle.”

M&S say that this is about responding to customer feedback rather than bowing to the recession. But are they at risk of diluting the M&S brand here?

As mentioned above, M&S last sold branded goods in the 1950s; the fact that after that they never sold anything other than own brand was one of their USPs. And the one thing they can’t do in this situation is place their own guarantee on those other brands’ products. So in bringing in alternatives, does this move de-value the M&S promise that their own goods are of the highest quality? Surely by selling PG Tips they’re suggesting that their tea bags aren’t quite as good?

Marks is one of the strongest and most identifiable brands on the UK high street. It’s steeped in tradition, and it’s unlikely that this move will ruin that for them. But one has to wonder why they are making this move, and after all this time, why now?

Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd

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