Why M&S has to reconnect with key shoppers – like me!

Marks and Spencer in Ipswich.

Marks and Spencer in Ipswich.

It can justifiably claim to be Britain’s favourite retailer, but things seem to have been going wrong at Marks & Spencer for some years, so far as the balance sheet is concerned at least.

As a regular, and pretty loyal, shopper at the company’s stores (I even use their own credit card) I can’t help feeling that they’ve lost touch with their customers a bit so far as their clothes are concerned.

The company’s food seems to go from strength to strength. It is a bit more expensive than you get at the large supermarkets, but for a once-a-week treat or a special weekend meal at the end of a day out it has few rivals.

Sales of Marks’ food are holding up well and their profits in that sector are rising. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised about that because the current chief executive made his name by turning around the fortunes of Morrison’s supermarkets.

But their clothing is so hit and miss for both men and women (and as a 50-something fashion icon who’s shopped with them for the best part of four decades I do feel qualified to comment).

On the menswear side they are brilliant below the waist, useless above it.

They sell trousers of all waist sizes that are short, medium or long. Great. All their shirts, whether casual or formal, have the same arm and body length.

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Here’s a clue chaps, if you have long legs you probably have long arms as well and don’t want a rugby-style shirt with arms at half-mast!

You used to be able to buy extra-long formal shirts off the shelf. Now you have to order them to pick up. Okay, they’re still available – but it does rather kill off the impulse purchase!

And while short-cropped casual shirts might be fashionable for teenagers, believe me they don’t work for the likes of me!

They also seem to struggle with their online offer. I saw a pair of summer shoes in Ipswich that I fancied, except they weren’t in my size. I tried ordering them online, they were out of stock in my size.

I found them in Cambridge in the right size. They’re very comfortable and I’ve worn them every day since. They have some great products that you can’t get hold of!

It’s the same with women’s wear, I’m reliably told. They try to be fashionable and try to cater for the older market – but fall down in the middle, in what has traditionally been their key market.

One last point, they could be better at dealing with customers. Their shop staff are brilliant, as helpful as possible.

But I’ve sent them three e-mails over the years. Once I was told they don’t sell longer-sleeved casual shirts because there’s no market for them.

The others got a standard: “Thank you for writing, your opinion is important to us” response which, I felt, meant my complaint had probably been filed in the electronic bin!