Troubled Marks & Spencer, Debenhams Try to Attract the Cool Kids

(Bloomberg) -- Troubled U.K. department stores are revamping their marketing tactics to try to attract younger customers.

Marks & Spencer Group Plc said Tuesday it will eschew traditional advertising vehicles such as television in its latest ad campaign, which for the first time will focus exclusively on digital platforms like Instagram. Debenhams Plc, which unveiled its first new logo in 20 years on Monday, said it also plans to strengthen its online presence.

“The millennial generation coming through shop in a different way,” said Adam Tomlinson, an analyst at Liberum. “These legacy players have fallen a long way behind the market and a lot of the investment going in, while all good stuff, is to catch up rather than get ahead of the competition.”

Troubled Marks & Spencer, Debenhams Try to Attract the Cool Kids

M&S plans to use tools such as Google Local Inventory, which directs consumers searching for products to the nearest brick-and-mortar stores that stock them. The chain was one of the first clothiers to adopt Shoppable Instagram, which allows items in photos to be linked to e-commerce sites for purchase. M&S will expand this capability to Facebook.

M&S and Debenhams are just two of the many U.K. retailers that have suffered from declining store visits as more people shop online, as well as a Brexit-induced cost squeeze. House of Fraser Ltd., another British department-store chain, initiated insolvency procedures last month before being bought by Sports Direct International Plc.

Department-store shoppers also tend to be older than those at rival mall outlets. U.K. consumers over 65 spent more than 700 million pounds ($899 million) in department stores in the year through July, while those younger than 25 spent just 334 million pounds, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel.

Shortly after Marks & Spencer Chief Executive Officer Steve Rowe took on the role, he said he would try to reconnect with M&S’s core customer, a 50-something woman he dubbed “Mrs. M&S,” after years of unsuccessful efforts to court younger shoppers. The attempt to reach consumers through platforms like Instagram suggests that the company is bumping up against the limitations of that strategy, as it moves to close at least one-third of its 300 largest stores.

“I think we have seen quite a lot of retailers reassessing their target age groups,” Glen Tooke, consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel, said. Retailers are starting to adopt the view that “any customer is as good as any other customer, as opposed to the historical attitude of focusing on one age group.”

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