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Quality issues at Marks and Spencer

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Marketing
Wordcount: 2329 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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This report examines strategic quality standards and how it is being applied in Marks and Spencer; focussing on three of the seven strategic quality management standards with emphasis on:


Continuous improvement

Customer focus

People Participation & Partnership

I will also look at how the company has been able to manage quality by focussing on the needs of their customers and employee involvements. I have chosen to write this report on M & S because I was interested to find out how they have been able to be market leader in UK.

M&S Background

The company started in Leeds in 1884 when Michael Marks, a Russian immigrant, set up a “Penny Bazaar” from which no item cost more than one penny. Ten years later Tom Spencer joined Michael Marks in partnership. By 1901 the business had 12 shops and 24 stalls. By 1926 the business was operating from 125 stores and subsequently changed its status to that of a public company. For 125 years M&S has been trusted by customers to offer high quality products at great value. It has grown from a Penny Bazaar stall to become the UK’s leading retailer of quality clothing, food and home products. With more than 21 million UK customers, the company is an expanding international force, now in 40 territories. A team of over 78,000 people and over 2,000 suppliers form the bedrock of its business.

An insight into quality at Marks and Spencer

M&S continues to offer Quality, Value, Service, Innovation and Trust. These core values are as important today as they ever have been. They are all about doing the right thing which is, quite simply, how they do business (M&S, 2009).


M&S earned reputation for quality by establishing strict criteria that they continue to follow today. In 1926 the company adopted the revolutionary policy of buying directly from their manufacturers, which enabled them to get involved in the production process and more closely influence price, quality, and design.


‘Don’t Ask the Price it’s a Penny’ was M&S first value slogan, propped up on Michael Marks’ Penny Bazaar stall in the Kirkgate Market in Leeds. They have continued to offer value for every purse – good, at the opening price point, through to better and best at the more luxurious end of their ranges.


The broad customer demographic gives M&S a unique position in the UK; have never been complacent about this and strive to offer great customer service, in order to meet the nation’s every need. In 1935 M&S introduced the first M&S Café, and is now the UK’s fourth largest coffee shop chain. Fitting rooms were first installed as a trial at Plymouth store in 1977 and branched out to the Internet in 1999.


From crease-free linen and machine washable silk, to selling the UK’s first Iceberg lettuce in 1980, M&S leads, others follow. In 1968 it began selling ‘avocado pears’. The name caused confusion, with customers serving them as a dessert with custard. The store quickly dropped

the ‘pear’ and issued instruction on how to prepare the avocados as part of a salad. Today it continued to innovate, with new ranges such as Cook Asian 1234 and many more.


At M&S we have always nurtured the belief that business conducted ethically and responsibly can deliver benefits. For example in 1975 Marcus Sieff, then Chairman, wrote to The Times detailing how they had reduced energy consumption by £500,000. Over the years customers have come to rely on M&S to do the right thing, a responsibility not taken lightly. M&S Plan A builds on this heritage and goes back to the belief that being responsible can also be profitable. Marks & Spencer has been built on a philosophy of:

offering customers a selective range of high quality merchandise;

encouraging suppliers to maintain high quality standards in production and working environment;

store expansion planned for the convenience of customers, with a greater width of product choice;

simplified operating procedures;

supporting British industry and buying abroad only when new ideas, technology, quality and value are not available in the UK;

fostering good human relations with customers, staff, suppliers and the community.

Quality is “conformance to requirements” (Crosby, 1979), with emphasis on zero defects. (Swanson, 1995) however, implied quality management to be the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy given needs. Implicit in this assumption is a customer with needs and expectations to be satisfied. Quality is a measurable result; quality management improvement is more about the journey than the result. What we do and how we do it determines quality and the actionable elements of quality involve the process rather than the outcome. Good quality reduces the cost of rework, waste, complaints and returns and most importantly, generates satisfied customers (Slack, 2007).

Marks and Spencer has what is called a golden rule cascaded to all employees to always take ownership of helping the customers and also to get feedback about their services which helps them to know the area that needs improvements.

M & S quality management have always given commitment that the company’s products and services meet their expected level of quality. Management levels from strategic down to operational an active role in ensuring all tasks are completed and consistently to pre-set standards that meets the needs of the business and more importantly geared to their customers.


Quality starts with senior management and must be seen as a strategic activity stressed by (Deming, 1982) whilst (Juran, 1989) was of the view that quality should be focussed on a ‘user-based’ approach. This is the approach that M&S have been following. M&S management have taken responsibility for Quality which they have embalmed in their dealings with their customers. Leadership and governance go hand-in-hand in a successful company. For both to work well you need a clear plan of what you want to achieve. Marks and Spencer sets annual plan for the organisation. Following its 2008/09 performance review, the Board has agreed actions for 2009/10 within three key areas to ensure governance is robust and continues to add value to Marks & Spencer. One of the three boards is known as ‘Responsible Board’ primarily with the tasks of reinforcing the company’s brand reputation and stakeholder relationships for the long-term success of M&S through their brand values, Plan A and code of ethics. With this commitment:

investors are rewarded with profitable returns

customers experience Quality, Value, Service, Innovation and Trust every time they shop with at M&S

employees are proud to work at M&S

suppliers are engaged in profitable partnerships

communities and the environment benefit from our sustainable business.

Continuous Improvement

Quality management at Marks and Spencer is based on what is known as Plan A which contains a comprehensive set of objectives that governs how M&S does business. It was launched in January 2007 committing to change 100 things over five years. Three years on, Plan A is making a real difference to the environment and for our customers, employees and people working in the company’s supply chains. Through Plan A, M&S have introduced products and services to help customers live more sustainably, increased M&S contribution to local communities, and generated additional profit which has been invested back into the business. M&S aim to engage every one of its 21 million customers by building Plan A qualities into all of the M&S products and helping customers to develop their own Plan A eco-plans. The company also aim to accelerate the transition of Plan A from ‘Plan’ to ‘How We Do Business’ by integrating it into processes and giving its workforce the skills, tools and motivation required to make a difference.

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Customer Focus

M&S takes responsibility for responding to the needs of their customers. In the company’s annual review (M&S, 2009) the Executive director of Marketing commented that the year 2008/09 has been another year about listening and responding to our customers. Nowhere is this more visible than in our marketing campaigns. These have focused on reassuring our customers they are getting M&S ‘Quality Worth Every Penny’, as well as reaffirming that M&S is a brand our customers can trust to do the right thing. Although we reduced our marketing spend in 2008/09, we delivered campaigns that our customers could relate to in a downturn, while reaffirming our quality credentials. In 2004 Marks and Spencer introduced what is known as ‘Your M&S’ to reflect the unique position that the company holds in British Hearts and Minds. The company sees their customers as being passionate about M&S and with almost everyone having an opinion about the company. When times are tough, they show customers that they continue to put the ‘Your’ in Your M&S as crucial to retaining their loyalty and affection. Customers want to see that M&S are keeping faith with them by developing exciting and iconic products; ensuring their stores are easy to shop in and offer an enjoyable experience; and perhaps most importantly, by demonstrating that they listen to their feedback in the actions they take. M&S have demonstrated that indeed, they listen and respond to their customers. One clear message from their customers during the year was that they were feeling the pinch about the current economic climate and wanted M&S to give them a helping hand. M&S saw this as an opportunity to draw on its value credentials and give the customers restaurant quality food at a really affordable price, and in the comfort of their homes by introducing ‘Dine in for Two for £10’ campaign and ‘Wise Buys’ campaign that gives customers value without compromising on the quality or the sourcing of their products. M&S continues to talk to their customers and stay true to their founding principles of Quality, Value, Service, Innovation and Trust.

People Participation and Partnership

Each person within the organisation has a responsibility for quality including employees and organisations in partnerships with M&S. If everyone has the ability to impair quality, they also have the capacity to improve quality. As everyone is capable of improvement in the way they do their jobs and helping others to theirs effectively. (Slack, 2007) affirmed that ‘neglecting this potential in staff is neglecting a powerful source of improvement’. M&S is committed to doing the right thing for their customers, colleagues, shareholders, suppliers and local communities. Their code of ethics outlines the standards and behaviours that they expect of every M&S employee, no matter where in the world we conduct business.

M&S sees fair partnerships with employees, communities and suppliers as an investment in their future success. They have assisted their suppliers set up 10 Ethical Model Factories to demonstrate how good employment practices can result in a more productive workforce. They have also provided over 80,000 hours of supplier training and held best practice conferences around the world. In 2009, M&S was the largest UK retailers of Fairtrade certified cotton clothing with a market share of over 30% and are still developing both general merchandise and Food Fairtrade, extend their efforts to make sure that people working in their supply chains and living in local communities benefit from our success. This includes working with suppliers to pay higher wages in clothing factories in developing countries. Due to the involvement of employees and partners, M&S develops and reward its employees thereby retaining our reputation as an employer of choice with one of the lowest employee turnover rates in UK retail at 14%.Around 46% of their people have been with them for over five years and 27% for more than 10 years.

M&S offers competitive salaries, retirement plans, in-store and online discounts, sharesave options and bonuses in addition to other incentives.

Communicating it policies especially Plan A to employees has enabled virtually all staff to develop the quality culture in M&S. It has a Business Involvement Group (BIG), which comprises of over 3,500 elected staff representatives. Director Breakfasts are informal question and answer sessions that bring store teams and business unit leaders together and In-store listening groups are hosted by store managers.


I believe that it is the commitment from management and the active involvement of employees in developing and implementing their quality objectives ‘Plan A’ that have contributed to the success of the company. To continue to sustain the level of confidence of quality assurance, managers need to ensure that everyone consistently adhere to their standards and ensured it is continuously measured and monitored. Where necessary corrective action should be taken as advocated by (Deming, 1982) to use of the Shewhart cycle, also known as the PDCA cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act), as an approach to process analysis. This cycle inevitably leads to redesign and improvement in quality.



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