M&S in overseas push as UK sales wilt

Marks and Spencer plans to open 250 new stores outside the UK over the next three years.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 01 Jul 2014

The high street stalwart has slowly been losing its grip on the UK womenswear market - now M&S is hoping international customers will be more keen on its 'toasted crumpets' and 'red wine'.

M&S plans to boost its overseas profits by 40% over three years with the opening of 250 new stores outside the UK, on top of the 455 already in operation. Priority markets will be India, China, Russia, the Middle East and Western Europe. Some 20 food stores will open in Paris, making the French capital M&S’s largest food market outside of the UK.

'M&S Food is in much demand globally. From toasted crumpets in The Hague to red wine in China, our international customers are very quick to tell us what their favourite M&S products are. This is why expanding our fresh food offer presents us with a strong growth opportunity,' Steve Rowe, M&S Executive Director of Food, said.

The 130-year-old British retailer will be hoping for a smoother experience than a decade ago, when it made a humiliating exit from mainland Europe which sparked staff and customer protests.

But M&S is taking a different approach this time round. It will target a handful of countries, rather than taking the scattergun approach that proved too expensive in 2001. It will also adopt a 'bricks and clicks' strategy of opening flagship stores in key cities, supported by smaller food stores and an online service.

M&S wants 100 stores in India by 2016. It also hopes to have 10 lingerie and beauty stores in Saudi Arabia in the next two years, after the success of two outlets already open there.

However, the company is remaining cautious about China, a tough market where the likes of Tesco and L'Oreal have struggled. M&S is seeking help from a local partner before it expands nationwide, after closing a third of its 15 existing stores in the Shanghai area and opening five in different locations.

Last year, M&S's international business made profits of £120m on sales of £1.1bn. The international expansion follows chief executive Marc Bolland's £2.3bn turnaround strategy which aims to transform M&S into a global, 'multi-channel' retailer reaching customers through stores, online shopping and mobile devices.

M&S's focus on food sales comes as its grocery arm grows but its clothing business is losing its market share faster than any of its rivals among the UK's top 10 clothing retailers. Last month Next announced its profits had overtaken M&S's for the first time after a year of strong sales. Will overseas customers provide a more fruitful opportunity?

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