Marks & Spencer will integrate Early Learning Center toy stores and Nobody’s Child fashion into select stores as part of an intensification of its strategy to sell external brands and increase its appeal to families.
The clothing, food and home goods retailer will open Early Learning Center outlets, with children’s activity tables as well as toys for sale, in 10 stores at the end of March, including Bluewater Shopping Center in Kent, Longbridge in Birmingham and Liverpool. .
Neil Harrison, brand director at M&S, said the move was part of an effort to become “more relevant more often for families” in stores, after testing Early Learning Center products on its website.
“We know that a large portion of our customers are looking to buy children’s clothing and toys for family and friends. So, by bringing the Early Learning Center brand – with fun and interactive experiences – to our stores, we’re able to give our 22 million customers more reasons to shop with us,” he said.
M&S started selling external brands on its website a year ago, but has experimented with selling brands in 15 stores, including Clarks children’s shoes and Seasalt women’s clothing, as part of attempts to relaunch clothing departments by expanding its appeal.
Along with the arrival of the Early Learning Centre, M&S is introducing more clothing brands to stores, doubling the number of Seasalt sellers to 20 and bringing Nobody’s Child to nine stores.
The latest move will put at least one brand of children’s clothing or toys in 27 UK stores. M&S has 284 clothing stores in total.
Jaeger, the high-end womenswear brand that M&S bought from administration last year, will also be offered in several international stores.
Richard Price, managing director of the clothing and home division of M&S, said the brands could help attract more shoppers and improve the perception of style at the retailer.
More than 35 brands are on sale through the M&S website, including Sosandar, Smiggle and Jigsaw after an initial experience with Nobody’s Child last March.
Price said the brands now accounted for 3.5% of M&S online sales, having been purchased by 1.2 million shoppers, helping to boost the group’s clothing sales.
“Beyond the commercial benefits, we are excited about the role brands can play in bringing customers into the M&S ecosystem, complementing our own brand product. Customers who buy brands not only spend on average double, but come back to buy 10 days sooner.
“Through M&S brands, we build deeper relationships with our customers, get to know them better and, in turn, our 22 million customers benefit from a richer and more seamless M&S experience.”
Last week, M&S announced that Stuart Machin, the boss of its food business, would succeed Steve Rowe as chief executive. Katie Bickerstaffe, who heads her apparel and home division, has been named “co-CEO”, in an unusual leadership structure.