Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Eat in with M+S

Stores Nationwide
Stores visited: Islington and Lakeside

The bigwigs at M+S have seen an opportunity. Finally this credit crunch dread could bring them some good news.

"Our consumers don't cherish our brand as they once did," complained Mr M to Mr S.

"Don't worry, I've been thinking about this," says Mr S, "why don't we bring the restaurant to them?"

Mr M perks up. "Go on..."

"Yes," continued Mr S, "We could call it Dine with us for 10 pounds!"


Mr S frowns. "What's wrong?"

"Well its not very us, is it? It sounds more like something... well something Iceland would do!"

Mr M and Mr S shivered at the thought.

Mr S recovered first. "No, no, not at all - think of it, an M+S quality main course for 2, a side dish, a dessert and a bottle of wine."

"And one of our adverts." Mr M added dreamily. he loved their adverts they always made him tingly in a way he could never tell his wife about.

"Well, of course." Mr S smiled at his colleague.

"What of our profit line?" Mr M said, snapping out of his pleasant reverie.

"Oh, don't worry about that..." Mr S laughed and soon Mr M joined him.

It's exactly this attitude that makes the current M+S promotion ripe for criticism. As a company they recently had to break with tradition, stocking branded items alongside their own products. The falling sales and the shift of customers towards cheaper supermarkets has meant they have had to reassess their game plan. Unfortunately, they have not pulled it off with their 'Dine in' idea.

The whole concept of a meal for 5 or 10 pounds originated at Iceland, the kind of store that is happy to be sponsor 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here!', with its disgusting bush tucker trials (I suppose it does make their food look slightly better). Their adverts shriek of desperation, of mothers who go to Iceland not because they care but because the food is quick, cheap and full of enough sugar and additives to medicate their kids. Any store that is happy to be represented by Kerry Katona, a gurning chav stereotype, who would sell her dirty knickers to the highest bidder for the publicity, has a certain reputation that is hard to shift.

This is where the problem with M+S's promo lies - the customers who still chose to visit M&S do so because they can still afford it or they are prepared to make sacrifices on luxuries elsewhere because they want the quality that M+S has always represented.

Unforunately, for M+S my immediate reaction to seeing their promo advert was to think of Iceland and KFC and their "family feasts". In a word: cheap. Yes the food shown looks lovely, but it is also misleading. I shopped at two M+S stores, both large and in busy areas. Although the signs for their promotion where everywhere it was actually quite difficult to find the items that were included in the deal. When I did find them the lack of choice was extremely disappointing. In both stores there was only 1 vegetarian choice; sweet potato cakes. The other options were salmon and meatballs and fish and chips. Tons of the buggers. For a side you were wowed by caesar vegetables or a bag of new potatoes. For dessert: chocolate souffle, chocolate profitaroles or berry pannacotta. The wine was 1 red, 1 white and 1 sparkling rose. Very poor indeed. Suddenly the deal seems a great idea for M+S (get punters in who wouldn't normally shop there, and sell them well-packaged food that is actually worth less then 10 pounds), on the surface, but certianly not a great deal for their customers. Those who have a snobbery about the store will feel the deal is downmarket, and those customers who are drawn in will be confused by the signage and disappointed by the range of meals included.

A far better idea would have been to include a larger range of items, with less ready meals. Encouraging people to shop at M+S for fresh fruit and veg by offering them in the deal, with accompanying recipes. Simple dishes that took less than 15 mins to prepare and half an hour to cook. With at least 2 vegetarian choices and a non-alcoholic drink to go with it. In fact with just a little more thought shown the deal would seem less superficial and reactionary and more genuine in wanting to attract customers other than its core demographic.

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