Apparently I’m supposed to have noticed that Marks and Spencer has a new web site. The shareholders are up in arms, it says here, about the underperformance of the company. Well, christ. The screenshot above shows, not the home page, but the page you get to when you click on Men in the top menu and then “Formal Shirts”.
The problem for me is that this splash doesn’t show me anything or tell me anything useful. Who reads the blurb about formal shirts? If someone has clicked the link, it’s not because they need to be told, “Our smart formal shirts cater for everything from the boardroom to black tie. Versatile colours, stripes and checks are the perfect partners to smart tailoring, while our dinner and dress shirts are formal essentials.”
(Someone was paid to write that, presumably. M&S could have saved the five pence and just shown some, you know, product.) You have to scroll down to the product, but now that I do so I’m already a bit annoyed because it feels like they’re trying to force me to admire their web site design. When I do scroll down, I can see no more than three shirts at a time. This doesn’t feel like enough. The left-hand menu allows me to filter down by size, and (roughly) by colour and by various other categories. But to do that successfully, you need to sort of know what you’re looking for.
Let’s say I’m looking for a plain, non-patterned shirt. I hate stripes and I hate check. I can’t be alone in this. I like colour but if I’m wearing a stripy tie, and I have a lot of stripy ties, I want a plain backdrop to it. To find “plain”, I have to scroll down and guess that it’s going to be under the category of “Design”, and to explode that I have to click on its little black arrow. This reduces the number of shirts to 161. Let’s say I’m in the market for a green shirt. So I now select the green colour swatch, and I’m left with this:
The one on the left is Aqua. Doesn’t look green to me. The one on the right is checked (and short sleeved), which doesn’t look very plain. Which leaves the one in the middle, which is a light green colour and “tailored fit” whatever the fuck that means when you’re buying ready-to-wear. A close up of the fabric reveals this:
Which is a bit, um, textured and patterny for my taste. Okay. Maybe green was too hard. Lets try orange. Similar story. This time I’m reduced to one shirt, similar to the green one, and it’s, um, coral (pink) not orange.
So now I give up and go on the Banana Republic web site.
In all of this, I should say that the experience of hunting for a decent shirt that doesn’t make you look like a Tory cunt is exactly the same as it was before they spent £150 million on a revamp. What did they change? The mobile site scales okay. Three taps to Formal Shirts, once it has loaded, but then you have the fiddly problem of searching for a plain shirt.
As for the stores, the experience is terrible. Entering the men’s department feels like entering the aftermath of an explosion in a sweatshop warehouse. You feel you ought to be wearing breathing apparatus and carrying an axe. There are too many products, too many ranges, too many collections. What’s the difference between Autograph and Collezione, or between both of those and Savile Row Inspired, or M & S Collection? What’s the difference between Blue Harbour and North Coast? Nobody knows, and, here’s a news flash for Marks and Spencer: nobody cares. Those Collezione clothes do not look particularly Italian or stylish.
Anyway, this is before you get to the main reason any man would enter Marks and Spencer in the first place: socks and underwear. They lost the plot on socks years ago, and I can date it precisely: the problem is Lycra™. The socks in the 80s were quite good. They had a good range of colours, they were cotton, they washed well, they lasted ages, and they were comfortable to wear. As soon as they started adding 1% elastane and moved their manufacturing overseas, they became too stretchy, uncomfortable on the feet after a day’s wear, and the sizing deteriorated. I’m angry with M&S for not understanding something as basic as how they fucked up their socks. They don’t need and never did need Lycra. There are also too many, far too many, different ranges of similar socks. This is the illusion of choice. A real choice would be with Lycra and without. And the same goes for underwear. You go into the underwear section, and six months later a search party comes in, attached to ropes, and finds you standing, bewildered, in front of the array of trunks briefs and shorts, unable to choose and unable to find that thing you had before that was okay, yeah, I’ll just have that, but where is it?
They need one leisure range, one smart/business range, and one stylish/fashion range. Why do they have so many? And what the fuck’s up with all the fucking jumpers? And all the trousers??? Fucking hell, why do they ever include red trousers in their collection? They always end up in the sale, which is the only time anyone ever buys them.
Plot. Lost. The above advice, free of charge. Marks and Spencer: you know you need me.