Marks and Spencer turns 100 in India – British retailer heads to the heartland as sales boom

Marks and Spencer turns 100 in India – British retailer heads to the heartland as sales boom
  • M&S follows a two-pronged strategy to keep its mature and GenZ audiences equally engaged with the brand.
  • While it keeps its swimwear very contemporary and youthful, it also caters to working professionals for its workwear clothing lines.
  • The retailer is now going after Tier 2 towns as demand continues to boom in these towns.

Have you made an impulse purchase of a swimsuit or a pretty linen shirt while waiting to board a flight? Well, you are not the only one. Marks and Spencer makes it a point to prominently display its “holiday” collection at its airport stores. For the British retailer, the swimwear segment has grown by an astounding 227% and is now a focus area for the brand in India as the sales of this segment has a much younger audience.

M&S is perceived as a more mature brand given that the average age of the brand’s consumer base in India is 36 years. That is surely not good news for a brand in a country where more than 50% of the population is under the age of 25. M&S does not sweat much over this, as it has a two-pronged strategy to keep its core audience and even GenZ equally engaged with the brand. While it does target working professionals for its workwear, its holiday collection (casual wear line) and premium brand Autograph helps it garner a much younger audience.

Expansion in India is a part of the British retailer’s conscious strategy to grow operations in India as the brand recall in India is way higher than some other emerging markets. The high street retailer has expanded its footprint in India from 36 stores in 2013 to 100 stores in 2023. Currently the British retailer’s footprint in India is spread across 1.1 million sq ft and aims to exit FY24 with 1.4 mn sq ft in total retail space.

M&S has survived the Covid storm and brutal lockdowns with its nimble footed response to customer needs. While more than two years of brutal lockdowns broke the backs of most, M&S has come out even stronger from the pandemic, with its store count touching 100 in October 2023. The milestone reflects the sustained financial growth the brand has seen in India and a strong commitment to the Indian market.

But it is not just the physical stores that have helped it earn a loyal customer base of 50 lakh customers in India. M&S online currently services 28,000 pincodes in India. At present, 23% revenues of M&S come from the online channel. And unlike many other brands, it does not use discounting as a mode to garner online sales.

Most global brands find it hard to respond to local requirements and even if they do, it takes rather long. But M&S has been acting on its feet ever since the Covid lockdowns began. Explains Ritesh Mishra, Managing Director of Marks & Spencer Reliance India, “When Covid happened, there was a focus on above-the-keyboard dressing. A big trend we found was women looking for non wired bras and we responded to the spike in demand like we saw in sleepwear – which also comes under the lingerie segment. When people started going back to work, we responded with our shapewear offerings and wired bras.”

For the uninitiated, lingerie accounts for 25% of M&S’ sales in India. It is a big category that sees a lot of innovations too. It offers 44 sizes in women’s inner wear and its top selling item is a total support bra. M&S saw a 33% growth in non-wired bras over 2022-23.

Interestingly, it is not just the urban markets that M&S has managed to enchant. Of its 100 stores, 40 stores are in Tier 2 towns. While growth in Tier 1 cities is nowhere near exhausted, M&S is growing much faster in Tier 2 towns even if the basket size is 20% less than what is seen in mega metros. M&S is present now in Ranchi, Coimbatore, Surat, Bhubaneswar and Baroda and Kochi. In times to come M&S will continue to focus on the 36 cities it is present in by expanding its footprint in these cities before going deeper into India. It will consider opening more stores in other Tier 2 towns if locations come up, says Agarwal.