Marks & Spencer

Common sense dictates that the bigger a company grows, the more difficult it is to be flexible and innovative.
Yet Marks & Spencer (M&S) has managed to remain on the cutting edge of innovation in everything from technology to sustainability, while staking its claim as the United Kingdom's largest clothing retailer, with a market share of 11.1 percent and apparel sales accounting for 44.8 percent of its U.K. business.
Offering more choices and translating trends more quickly than ever into wearable fashions has resulted in increased growth in sales and market share. Among many new changes, this year, for example, the company expanded its women's wear "Autograph" line with the launch of "Autograph Weekend" smart-casual clothes for women, and its fast fashion "Limited Collection," appealing to a younger, more fashion- conscious customer. In men's wear, its "Blue Harbour" remained the U.K.'s biggest men's casual wear brand.
Also, its share of the lingerie market grew to 26.1 percent and it even reversed its previous poor performance in children's wear with its first television advertising campaign for the category and a new trial store layout.
All about performance
One way in which M&S appeals to its customers is by staying at the forefront of innovation and performance in its clothing lines.
This year the company launched its exclusive men's "Stormwear" line, made with an innovative water- and stain-repellent, breathable fabric originally developed for the military.
It also developed a new fleece made from recycling plastic bottles into polyester, instead of using oil. This year it used 4.5 million plastic bottles to make fleece garments for retail sale and for a store uniform trial.
And other innovations? The company extended its use of some innovative materials that it introduced last year, including Insolia shoes, which work by moving weight back to the wearer's heel for better body alignment and balance, keeping legs comfortable.
It also expanded its use of "Real Cool Cotton" -- a trademarked fabric that keeps the wearer cool -- from men's undergarments to new categories including adult tshirts and infant sleepwear.
In women's wear, the company applied the shaping technology of its "Magicwear," originally introduced in lingerie to provide invisible shape and support, to its new "Magic Dress" and "Magic Jeans."
And in hosiery, the company introduced ladder-resistant tights and hold-ups whose fabric is made from revolutionary new yarns that join to form thousands of invisible mini-joints. This means that should a yarn break, rather than creating an unsightly ladder, the fabric forms a discreet hole.
Leading the way in RFID Beyond its innovations in apparel performance, Marks & Spencer maintains a relentless focus on improving the speed and efficiency of its supply chain by continually evaluating technologies and processes that will take it to the next level. An example of this is the company's incorporation of radio frequency identification (RFID) into its operations.
Indeed, M&S is the world's biggest user of RFID tags at retail, which it uses to improve stock accuracy and inventory processes. For example, RFID has drastically reduced the time needed each week for stock taking from as many as eight hours to just one hour per week per department.
The technology is also allowing M&S to provide better customer service and drive sales. Improved stock accuracy, for example, has enabled customers to find the sizes they need, says James Stafford, head of clothing RFID.
The company incorporates RFID tags into "Intelligent Labels" from Avery Dennison. These are applied to apparel at the source, in more than 20 countries.
To date, approximately 120 million tags have been used, and after an initial 42-store pilot, the application has now been rolled out to more than 100 of Marks and Spencer's major stores, and is an integral part of the way that the company does business. As it has integrated RFID at the item level, the company has been careful to address not only the technical issues of the rollout, but the social ones as well. A key issue for the company has been to ease consumer privacy concerns, which it has addressed by not attaching RFID tags directly to apparel.
Instead, they are contained in the paper labels that also provide size, price and other apparel information.
Setting up globally, moving product faster
Over the past two years, M&S also has expanded its global reach by opening a network of sourcing offices across Asia, with locations in Hong Kong; Shanghai, China; Bangalore, India; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Istanbul, Turkey.
With employees across these locations numbering around 200, the offices have coordinated the direct buying, production and transportation of more than 129 million items in 8,000 styles.
These global locations have given the company the "eyes and ears on the ground" necessary to help it operate more efficiently. The company is now moving fast fashion lines from the drawing board into stores in eight weeks.
The offices also play a key role in monitoring suppliers' labor standards: last year, 677 independent visits to supplier factories were carried out to make sure they were meeting the company's ethical standards on issues such as fair pay and working conditions. v
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