While living in Paris last year, I was always drawn in by the occasional M&S like a homesick moth to flame, staring longingly at the English breakfast blend and crumpets. What could be more British than M&S, except perhaps bulldogs, the Union Jack and battered spam? However, for Brits living in France, this experience is on borrowed time.
M&S is mulling over plans to close its twenty shops in France, most of which are in Paris. Citing Brexit border delays and, as a result, hundreds of tons of food wasted, M&S is struggling to provide adequate stock to its EU shops, with only 80% of its products reaching the bloc.
Last year M&S’s international business accumulated Brexit-related costs of £6.2m, as overseas sales also dropped 17%. The figures prompted a rush of mitigating strategies, including an overhaul of its supply chain: in the Czech Republic, the company removed all fresh and chilled foods from stores, replacing them with products with long shelf lives.
This is not the first time that M&S has warned of shortages in certain regions, but you can’t help but wonder whether if similar scenes could follow closer to home as haulage driver shortages continue to hit food deliveries.
Back in the UK, the retailer is reviving a brand scrapped in 2000 in order to push its profits into the green after a 50% slump. After noticing that ‘St Michael’ branded items are popular online on second-hand retailers such as Depop and Vinted, it decided to launch three “vintage-style” items in its latest attempt to win over the under-25s, though a more cynical part of me can’t help but feel that it’ll take much more for the retailer to compete with “youthful” brands Boohoo, Zara and ASOS.
Nonetheless, it is interesting that while pulling out of another country, M&S is returning to a previously held identity in the UK, one associated with all things British. Is this an indication of nationalism or isolationism in British brand image?
Having closed 60 shops and cut 7,000 jobs in its recent overhaul programme last year, M&S is finally reporting boosted profits, with 2021 sales 2.6% only lower than in 2019. It does however pose the question: in a post-Brexit, post-Covid world, will business abroad be a necessary sacrifice to preserve the British institution?