M&S says consumer reaction to new range positive


A look from M&S AW13/14
LONDON, England - Marks & Spencer, Britain's biggest clothing retailer, said on Tuesday initial customer response to its crucial new autumn/winter womenswear range has been positive.

The new collection focuses on higher quality and more fashionable styles, something M&S hopes will satisfy its core 45-years-and-over shoppers while also drawing in younger buyers.

M&S needs the range to succeed to help reverse eight straight quarters of declining underlying sales of general merchandise, which consists of clothing, footwear and homewares.

"Consumer reactions to it was ... that the product was a lot nicer, a lot more attractive," Chief Executive Marc Bolland said on a visit to the firm's Pantheon store on London's Oxford Street - his first public comment on the range since its July 25 debut.

The range won mostly positive reviews from retail analysts and the fashion press when it was unveiled in May.

The full launch, together with a high-profile advertising push featuring some of Britain's biggest female celebrities, kicked off this month.

Bolland, who gave no sales data, denied the range represented a make-or-break moment for the firm, stressing his strategy for reviving general merchandise was a step-by-step approach.

"It's not autumn/winter make-or-break. Autumn/winter is directionally in the right direction of better quality and better style," he said.

"We've got 21 million customers a week. You don't want to turn the dial too fast."

M&S is scheduled to report second quarter trading figures on Nov. 5.

Shares in M&S have risen 39 percent over the last year and traded at over 500 pence on Friday for the first time since January 2008 on growing optimism the range will deliver, as well as an improving economic outlook in Britain.

They were up 1.8 percent at 509.25 pence at 1333 GMT, valuing the business at 8.23 billion pounds ($12.9 billion).

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of marketing and business development at M&S, said the "Leading Ladies" ad campaign, shot by fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz and featuring actress Helen Mirren and artist Tracey Emin, had turned consumers' heads.

"I think it has created a lot of buzz and conversation throughout the UK," he said.

He added that an advertising video posted on Facebook last Tuesday achieved 11 million hits and 500,000 downloads within three days while 17,000 consumers clicked through to the womenswear page on M&S' website, representing the firm's best ever response to a post.

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