Consumer data insight company, Starcount, concludes that M&S is failing to engage new fashion consumers because it is turning its strategies towards the discount high street shopper, when appealing also to trendy fashion insiders through targeted brand collaborations could help it significantly penetrate the UK's women's fashion audience.

M&S is failing to gain momentum in the women's fashion industry

From October 15 to February 16, around 36% of the new Twitter followers M&S managed to attract were from within Starcount's women's fashion consumer segments. However, by May, this figure had dropped to only 15%.

The core consumer

M&S is most popular amongst Starcount's 'Shopping Realists' consumer segment - sensible shoppers, keen on high street department stores and supermarkets, demonstrating, through the brands they follow, a practical, reserved, and realistic attitude to fashion. Within this segment, which accounts for 12.8% of the women's fashion market, M&S have a 46% penetration rate.

Alexa Chung opens up new audiences – but there's potential for further growth

Although their fashion followers have been in decline, M&S has recently been making ground amongst Fashion Insiders. These are people who take fashion extremely seriously, showing a distinct love for magazines that showcase the latest trends in high fashion. In May, of M&S's new followers, 19% were Fashion Insiders versus a usual uptake of between 8 and 10% each month over the past 6 months.

The rise in 'Fashion Insiders' comes after heavy promotion, in April, of M&S's Alexa Chung range. Starcount rank Alexa Chung as the 7th most important influencer for Fashion Insiders. To continue appealing to this segment, M&S could collaborate with one or more of the top 10 influencers for Fashion Insiders, such as Hilary Alexander, Stella McCartney, Mary Portas, Henry Holland or Victoria Beckham.

Penetrating the core fashion audience – key consumers and their influencers

M&S did well with Alexa Chung, but her range clearly had an appeal specific to the Fashion Insider consumer group. To reverse their recent decline in the fashion market, M&S need to focus on other fashion segments, in particular Investment-Piece Buyers and Cultured Trendsetters, which between them account for over a quarter of women's fashion consumers.

M&S currently has very little support amongst these segments, which are made up of people who favour the more 'on-trend' and higher-end fashion brands. Within these segment, M&S have a 4.2% and 6.0% penetration rate, respectively, compared with the 13.4% and 13.8% of the total fashion market that these segments represent.

To increase their appeal to these segments, M&S should look towards their influencers and see if they could collaborate with one or more of them. For 'Investment-Piece Buyers', the top 5 female influencers are Alexa Chung, Millie Mackintosh, Alexandra Felstead, Cara Delevingne, and Lucy Watson. The introduction of the Alexa Chung range did see a slight increase in Investment-Piece Buyers as a percentage of new followers for M&S, accounting for 6% in April and 9% in May, versus an average of 4% for the 6 months prior. Engaging the other four influencers could help boost M&S's popularity in this segment.

For Cultured Trendsetters, the most important 5 female influencers in the UK include Victoria Beckham, Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby – all of whom could make suitable brand collaborators.

Clive Humby, Chief Data Scientist at Starcount, commented:

"With the fashion market in decline for the first time in six years, it's never been more important for fashion brands to understand who their consumers are and what they want. News this week of Marks and Spencer's clothing sales plunge in the first quarter of 2016 shows just how out of touch the retailer is with its core consumer base.

"The findings from Starcount data analysis have debunked the idea that M&S should be focusing less on trends and more on discount prices – on the contrary, it suggests that fashion insiders and trendsetters are the very consumers M&S needs to attract in order to improve market share. Our data shows that M&S is most popular amongst 'Shopping Realists', who are less interested in trends. But in order to reverse its recent decline in popularity, M&S needs to be focusing on also attracting the more on-trend consumer types.

"Fashion brands should not view their customer base as one homogenous group. Our data analysis breaks down audiences into specific consumer segments, helping brands understand how to tailor their marketing and products to all types of customers and potential customers."

M&S consumer base breakdown

· 46% Shopping Realists
· 11.6% Fashion Insiders
· 11.4% Luxury Fashion Aspirers
· 8.3% Deal-Driven Homemakers
· 6.0% Investment-Piece Buyers
· 4.2% Cultured Trendsetters
· 3.9% Glamorous Party Girls
· 3.5% Young Mainstream Fans
· 2.4% Affordable High Street Shoppers
· 2.7% Preppy Teens

The listed consumer types are Starcount's segmentation of women's fashion consumers in the UK, based on unique social media data analysis.

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