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As we announce exciting partnership extensions into our destination stores, Richard Price, our MD of Clothing & Home, looks back at the first year of ‘Brands at M&S’ and shares what’s next as M&S embraces platform retailing.

In mid-2020, I made a boomerang return to M&S, when the opportunity came to take the reins of the UK’s biggest clothing brand. In my 30 years as a retailer, I’ve witnessed monumental change in the sector, spanning how we source to how we sell – but I’ve never experienced a period of such rapid change than the last two years at M&S. 

In my first six months we took the bold step for an own brand heritage retailer of starting to sell guest brands. We kicked off with eco-conscious affordable fashion brand Nobody’s Child on M&, testing & learning as part of our mission to become more relevant, more often to our customers, it’s a great brand which we’ve since purchased a minority stake in. This month - March 2022 - marks one year of the ‘Brands at M&S’ platform truly kicking off, and what a 12 months it’s been…

Today, we sell over 35 brands on M& – from Sosandar to Smiggle, operating a range of models including exclusive collaborations and brands we own, like Jaeger. We offer third-party brands access to a broad customer base of 22m people. It’s an incredibly loyal and engaged customer base, and we pride ourselves on how we build relationships with our customers across all touchpoints, which now includes offering them curated brands. 

Our complementary brand partnerships vary from filling “gaps” in our product offer (such as Early Learning Centre and WatchShop) to price stretch products (such as Jigsaw) – it’s a mixture of brands our customers shop and something new – but all with the benefits of shopping with M&S - from a donation to charity every time you shop with Sparks to free click & collect. Importantly, style and sustainability are both at the heart of what we do, and this matters across not just our own brand product, but branded too, as we’ve pledged to be fully net zero by 2040.

Performance to date – over 1m ‘Brands at M&S’ shoppers

In the first half of the year brands represented c.3.5% of our online sales and over the past 12 months 1.2 million customers have shopped with ‘Brands at M&S’. But beyond the commercial benefits, we’re excited by the role brands can play in bringing customers into the M&S eco-system, complementing our own label product. Customers who buy brands not only on average spend double but return to purchase ten days sooner. 

Our mission for relevancy is rooted in driving “cross shopping”, be it cross channel or cross category, and 96% of third-party brand purchases include another product. It’s also brought customers in or brought them back. In Lingerie for example, where we already sell 1 in 3 bras in the UK, 18% of our branded customers were new to M&S in our second quarter (higher than other categories) and this reinforces what we know to be true from our own brand products – some women are highly loyal to a brand they love – be it Sloggi, Hotmilk or Freya – and so offering complementary brands helps us best serve our broad customer base.

Expanding ‘Brands at M&S’ into our destination stores 

‘Brands at M&S’ has and will continue to be online first, maximising the advantage a store network brings for seamless delivery and collection. We’ve also been experimenting with brands across 15 of our destination stores from our Clarks offer which completes our Back to School range, to introducing new propositions such as M&S Opticians. Brands can help drive footfall, newness and style perceptions. 

This Spring we’re more than doubling the number of stores where we’ll offer Seasalt Cornwall*, which is proving to be one of the most popular womenswear brands online and we’ve just launched Seasalt menswear. We’re also introducing Nobody’s Child to nine locations – currently only available online and in their Carnaby Street store and Early Learning to ten destination stores.

What excites me most about ‘Brands at M&S’ is that this is just the beginning. It’s not just about Clothing but also Beauty, where we are now working with Clinique the UK’s biggest skincare brand and Home where brands play an important role in how we know our customers shop. This Spring we’re launching Jaeger in selected international stores following an online launch – and there’s a lot to explore globally. 

The pace we’ve moved at and what we’ve achieved over the past year has been thanks to the hard work of a great team and our growing family of brands – who we’re learning from and with every day. Just this week we announced our investment in activewear platform The Sports Edit which will help us learn even more about brand curation, emerging brands, and customer segmentation. 

Through Brands at M&S we’re forming deeper relationships with our customers, getting to know them better and in turn our 22m customers are getting a richer and more seamless experience from M&S. Here’s to a great second year of ‘Brands at M&S’ and continuing to shape the future of M&S Clothing & Home.

*Stores where we’re stocking Seasalt from March ‘22

  • Aberdeen, Banbury, Eden High, Meadowhall, Merry Hill, Merton, Nottingham, Southampton, Thurrock, Trafford, Wycombe 
  • (Seasalt is already in - Argyle Street, Bluewater, Cheshire Oaks, Stratford City, Metro, Manchester, Lisburn, Castle Point, Longbridge)

Stores where we’re stocking Nobody’s Child from April ‘22

  • Bluewater, Cheshire Oaks. Lisburn, Liverpool, Manchester, Mary Street, Metro, Stratford, Thurrock

Stores where we’re stock ELC from March ‘22

  • Early Learning Centre will open in 10 stores across the UK: Bluewater, Stratford, Banbury Gateway, Cheshire Oaks, Lisburn, Thurrock, Metro Centre, Liverpool, Longbridge and Plymouth