UK’s leading retailer, Marks & Spencer Reliance India is expanding its reach and portfolio in India. The man spearheading all, Mark Ashman, CEO, Marks and Spencer Reliance India Pvt Ltd, talks about the brand’s journey in India.
Neha Malhotra (NM): What kind of benefit is the company deriving from the tie-up with Reliance Retail?
Mark Ashman (MA): Our partnership with Reliance is about their experience and knowledge of the Indian market and specifically their capability in real estate and logistics. We were impressed with the scale of their achievement in establishing Reliance Retail and felt that they were best able to support Marks & Spencer as we expand to become a significant retail brand in India.
NM: What are the products available for India customers? M&S is about to launch its men's range in India. What all can customers look forward to?
MA: We offer what is relevant to the Indian market both by way of range and price. Our product offering will naturally evolve as we gain a greater insight and understanding of our customers’ needs and preferences. Currently, we offer international shopping experience with extensive range of apparel including womenwear, menswear, kidswear, lingerie and beauty, plus home products all offering a great value.
NM: What challenges are you facing in your journey of being a success in India?
MA: Re-launching the Marks & Spencer brand in India has required a lot of hard work from the team. Operating in the Indian market has its own unique challenges. We have been fortunate to be able to hire some great people, with a real understanding of the market. If I could influence two things that would allow us to increase the pace of our expansion, it would be investment in good infrastructure and mall developers who recognise the benefit of long term mutual partnerships with retailers.
NM: What does your promotional strategy focus on?
MA: As a well-established 125-year old retailer in the UK, we do not need to educate our shoppers about our products or how we do business or what we stand for. Yet in India there is much to be done to bring the brand to life in a meaningful way.
We are repositioning the Marks & Spencer brand in India from premium to upper-mid market. We have lowered our prices and are developing our product range to reflect more closely the needs of the Indian consumer.
NM: What differences do you perceive in the Indian and the European market?
MA: European markets are mature and comprise a relatively homogenous consumer base, without wide disparities in income distribution or lifestyles. Retail in these markets has therefore been able to build processes and systems that capitalise the benefits of scale combined with operational and supply chain efficiencies to deliver consistency and higher quality standards both in terms of product and service.
We are able to bring this retail knowledge and process which will allow us to deliver world class retailing for the Indian consumer. However, there is a thriving indigenous retail industry that understands and caters really well to the needs of the Indian shopper. Ultimately our success will depend on our ability to combine our retailing expertise from the UK with a true understanding of the local market and consumer.
NM: What percentage of sourcing does M&S carry out from India? Is this percentage expected to grow in coming times?
MA: Marks & Spencer has sourced products successfully from Indian suppliers for export for a number of years. We are accelerating the proportion of ‘made in India’ [and Bangladesh] products for sale in India. We will only work with those suppliers who meet our quality and ethical standards and Marks & Spencer [UK] have a sourcing office in Bengaluru who are managing this on behalf of the JV business. Marks & Spencer will create both retail and manufacturing employment in India.
NM: What are the future plans in terms of expansion in India?
MA: We believe India offers us significant expansion opportunities and the chance to offer a much wider range of M&S products in more, bigger M&S stores. We are looking at opening approximately 50 stores over the next five years.