The samples on view were simply terrific. Totally terrific in terms of design and price point. This is good news for the consumer. I admit I loitered over the Limited Collection and Autograph samples more than any other but that was for a good reason - it is because I think these collections are coming back to a point of veritable consumer excitement! I can also highly commend the M&S Woman stuff in parts. Per Una remains an anathema to me and I suspect, although horrified to admit it, I'm in their target market or slowly moving that way!
Not only was there a nice cup of tea if one wanted on arrival but a gorgeous little nail bar where the lovely Lizzie Court of Lizzie Court Makeup made my nails rather perfect with Limited Collections Polish in Ultra Violet which is really a delightful forget me not type of colour.
I've picked out a selection of items that start hitting the stores from late March, early April. Starting with childrenswear my eyes spotted a gorgeous little scarf with flamingos on it - so cute I might get it for me.
Look at these lovely retro romper suit set for girls. I know someone who will be a recipient of these!
Not forgetting the boys, some nice alternative print shorts for the little man in your life, tres chic.
And these beach cover ups for girls need to be sized up for us big girls as well.
Back to womenswear the accessorises continue to go from strength to strength...
And these were some of the garments I snapped and believe me there could easily have been more.
Limited Collection shirt - two trends ticks for this one graphic stripes and yellow.
A great splash of neon with these M&S Women tees.
A simple shift dress from the Autograph range.
I love this purple metallic shirt from Limited
And actually this image doesn't do this gorgeous Limited skirt justice
I really had to tear myself away from the press room as it was a haven of loveliness and I so easily relax in these circumstances. I was so relaxed that when taking the lift down I nearly followed someone out to the first floor. Realising my mistake I immediately said to another person in the lift 'Opps need to concentrate more' and then went on to say that actually was what my school reports used to say. Luckily the fellow person in lift was kindly disposed to enter into school report banter of 'should try harder', 'if made more effort would do well' and obviously 'needs to talk less in class.'
Which brings me neatly to M&S going forward and of course the current A* pupil John Lewis. John Lewis, whatever anyone might think currently, was the worst store in the world about 8 years ago. You couldn't fault it for white goods and kitchen stuff but everywhere else was a bit dull. In fact it was all round dull and the sight of managers with clip boards (which occasionally still happens) was too frequent and very depressing. What did they do? Their move much earlier into a new purpose built John Lewis store at Cribbs Causeway from their old Bristol city centre store afforded them a view of what they could be like. It was probably true for M&S. Both were poised to draw lessons of how to remodel and refit their existing stores. It gave these businesses with flagship stores to examine in this environment what new buying patterns might yield and then... the internet hit. Suddenly areas like womenswear were hit very badly, access to beguiling garments away from the high street offerings really hit a cord. John Lewis stepped up to the mark and improved their buying. It still isn't right but along the way they improved every other bit of the store and started to join the dots with Waitrose and their online business. Now you can look online, check out in store walk away and order at your convenience to your local Waitrose. Where once I had to schlep up to Oxford St to get what I wanted (mainly Eve Lom cleanser) I now order online and pick up with my copy of Grazia and some bread.
John Lewis build up a brand mix of accessibility, mixed in clever things like Little Home and made the internet work for them which conveniently is the way the consumer wants it to work as well. M&S has yet to get that exactly right. The shops are still over stocked, not enough clarity of merchandising or rather where there is, it is stuffed to the rafters. They still need their stock system to understand supply and demand to make the necessary adjustments for the future not necessarily just to restock best selling items (which they seem to fail to do to). M&S still seems hell bent on pushing items in womenswear and woefully getting it wrong (a lot). In fairness this is true of John Lewis womenswear, there is a lot of irrelevance there too. However John Lewis happily reported great trading and great trading in these difficult times must give hope to everyone. I am particularly happy for the partnership staff who can enjoy the fruits of their labour as 9 weeks of wages, although taxation will dent that a bit. The only downside in this news is the tragic fact that the cleaning staff are woefully underpaid and are not partners and the possibility that a layer of management amounting to 300 redundancies is imminent . Maybe Mr Selfridge would have something to say about that - the tv version of course.
And in conclusion methinks M&S are watching and learning because it really feels as if they have turned a corner. My advice would be to get the good womenswear stuff, pieces that are modern, current and edgy out to the suburbs and towns. Why on earth hasn't the M&S at Epsom got Limited - H&M are cleaning up in that town with every age, having invested in a bigger better womenswear store. Get faster at collections in store from the website. Stop playing music in the stores, this is trashy and John Lewis is testament to how peace from unnecessary noise aids buying. Really look at how you stores are laid out and the fitting rooms need sorting - no music, more homely less harsh and no asking 'was it any good' or 'how did you get on', forgive me but it obvious when you are being handed everything back, it is a no!
Because M&S, John Lewis has proved that everything needs to be just so and seemingly effortless for customers. Having seen your High Summer collection you should be very proud of what you can do and further my recent experiences in your lovely food halls and the helpful staff there at Marble Arch and Tolworth are proof that you can do it - everywhere. Just turn off the music, step up the fashion and I'll be at the front of the queue every time as I know you can be the best.