06 April 2000 | Liam O'Brien
Marks & Spencer is finally to fall in line with best practice for retail merchandising and implement a store-focused supply chain, writes Liam O'Brien.
The troubled retailer announced last week that it plans to roll out a "new" merchandising strategy, which would tailor the clothing in each store for the demographics of its local area. Up until now, M&S has continued to stock its stores according to the size of their sales area.
After successful trials at 31 selected stores, which started in January, M&S said it is accelerating the system's implementation across all of its stores so that it will be in place nationwide in time for next spring's range.
An M&S spokesperson said: "The change is making a huge difference because, for the first time, stores are being given clothing tailored to the needs of its customers."
Fellow retailers are surprised that M&S has shunned such a retailing strategy for so long, given that it has been standard practice at its high-street competitors since the late 1980s.
Colin Astbury, director of logistics and manufacturing at Laura Ashley, said: "Other retailers have used it for a long time. The system's functionality has been around for ages, which has allowed retailers to do this. Who knows why M&S has held out for so long - it might have been arrogance on its part."
Some analysts fear the new merchandising approach will have a limited impact on M&S's operations.
Stephen Mayhew, principal consultant at retail consultancy Solving International, said: "What they are doing with merchandising is not exactly rocket science."
A bigger problem was the move to shift the company's supply base from the UK to the Far East, he added.