Marks & Spencer banks on local sourcing

Monday, 01 November 2010

Over the past two and a half years, the £9.5 billion shopping chain has been putting in tremendous effort to shake off its "exclusive and expensive" image to make itself more accessible to Indian shoppers. It was also determined to overcome the biggest hurdle to its growth in the country - the perception that its merchandise was highly expensive for its target audience.

The sheer size of the Indian market and to an extent its inflexibility is driving multinational companies to adapt, adjust and customize products for Indian tastes, sensibilities and size. It was only a matter of understanding that made the 126 year old establishment to quickly arrive at their India strategy. Whilst the launch of M&S was a page turner for India’s retail industry, the perceived exclusivity and the brand name may have made the Indian elite a happy lot, but the bulk of consumers in a price-conscious nation like India felt alienated which goes against the grain of M&S as it is indeed a middle range high street brand in the UK and other developed nations where it operates.

Indeed, the former head of M&S’ Indian operations, Mark Ashman tried to make M&S more accessible to Indians. He started with sourcing from India which cut costs of final products. The international fashion leader not only cut costs but also changed its trademark style of clothes to suit the Indian body type and mentality. M&S shirts donned a pocket for the first time ever in their design history and ladies’ shirts became longer. The men’s trouser too went in for minor merchandising changes to suit Indian men. The success of these design experiments has started a new trend and the company is now emulating this local strategy in its markets in Eastern Europe and China as well.

The figures associated with local sourcing speak for themselves. As Martin Jones, the current head of M&S India operations says now it is 42 per cent and they intend to take it to 70 per cent eventually.

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