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M&S returns with Paris flagship

Marks & Spencer could launch a new British retail invasion in France, returning 10 years after pulling out

BRITISH fashion retailers are well-placed to follow Marks & Spencer as it returns to Paris in November to open its new store at 100 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, says international retail marketing expert Professor Charles Waldman.

Former professor at Insead business school in Fontainebleau and now at CEIBS in Shanghai said more firms could play the British card and sell to the French: “There’s an appetite for fashion in France, an appetite for new concepts. British fashion has got a real appeal. It’s innovative. I don’t see why fashion retailers in the UK couldn’t make in-roads into the French market.”

Marks & Spencer is not the first fashion store to eye up France. New Look – which calls itself the UK’s No 2 fashion label after M&S – has already got 27 stores across the country, and Professor Waldman said: “British fashion is much more associated with modernity and avant garde trends.

“I think Britishness is definitely not a handicap any more in the French market. I don’t think you should necessarily insist on it, but make it a part of your brand. It’s a strong point and a very useful ingredient.”

Despite the high rents, he said the Champs-Elysées was a “very clever” location for M&S’s new flagship store, which will open in time for the Christmas shopping rush. The street is internationally
renowned for its quality fashion stores and is away from direct competition with the other big-name stores of Boulevard Haussmann, with the exception of Monoprix, which Mr Waldman said had itself been inspired by the M&S model.

He said M&S was still a respected brand in France: “A lot of people used to like M&S and were really sad when they left the country. Speaking to my friends, they missed the grocery section more than the clothing.

“The French love food and it may come as a surprise but they also love good British food. French people are cosmopolitan, they’ve travelled. My ex-wife, who is French, never recovered from the
fact that she couldn’t buy the coleslaw from Marks & Spencer any more.

“Marks & Spencer still has a reputation in France for good value for money, quality – that doesn’t just disappear, it doesn’t burst like a bubble.”

However, since M&S left, European retailers such as Zara and H&M have made a success of France and built a reputation for value and frequent rotation of new fashions. “[M&S] should not fall into the trap of becoming the old Marks & Spencer. If they don’t want to play today’s new fashion game, they will suffer.”

Could more British food retailers tap into the French market? Mr Waldman is sceptical: “I don’t think there’s much room unless you’re buying an existing player. I’m a fanatic lover of Tesco – the best retailer ever invented on earth, it’s a jewel. But in terms of mass food retailing, Europe is saturated.

“Tesco is unlikely to be able to do anything [in France] unless they write a cheque for Carrefour, but they probably have better things to do with their money.”

Gavin Rothwell, a research manager at IGD, a European retail analysis firm that has carried out extensive research into the French food market, said M&S would face tough competition but would trade on customers’ nostalgia.

“The Marks & Spencer brand is recognised around the world. In France, especially in Paris, there is a sense of nostalgia for M&S and its return will be welcomed by shoppers. This move stands out for its co-ordinated approach across physical stores and online. Having a web presence is a key route to brand loyalty.”

He added: “The convenience market has developed much since M&S was last in France, with the establishment of new formats such as Casino’s Chez Jean outlets and Carrefour City. Auchan, which is traditionally a hypermarket and supermarket operator, is also trialling a convenience concept in Paris called A 2 Pas.

“M&S will face tough competition, but will differentiate itself by focusing on its premium credentials.”

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