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M&S to return to the French market

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Marks & Spencer is heading back into the French market it pulled out of 10 years ago – but this time it’s online.

The company said today it was to launch a new French language website, trading in euros before the end of the year at and selling to customers across the country. By the end of 2011 it will also have a 1,400 sq m (15,000 sq ft) three-storey flagship store on Paris’ Champs-Elysées, selling both womenswear and food.

As part of its Gallic strategy, M&S is also talking to UK franchise partner SSP about opening Simply Food stores in and around Paris. The hunt is currently on for sites both for these stores and for larger sites from which to sell both clothes and food.

Marc Bolland, M&S chief executive, launched the French plan from Paris today. He said: “Marks & Spencer has great brand awareness here in France and a place in customers’ hearts. We’re very excited to be returning with an ecommerce and retail offer to delight customers with our full range of clothing and home products, and the exceptionl food from our Paris store.”

M&S started selling online to France in 2009, when it first enabled delivery to the French market. But this move, with its French language and currency options, marks a much more substantial venture in the market that is likely to enlist French as well as UK expat consumers.

The move also marks a bricks and mortar return to France for M&S, which had more than 40 stores across Western Europe until it closed down its Continental operation in 2001, selling off 18 French stores.

Our view: This move demonstrates the strategic advantages that online has to offer when it comes to expansion into international markets. When M&S previously traded in France, its Paris stores did good business, but those outside the capital were less successful. This bricks and clicks strategy offers the retailer the in-store advantages that a high-profile Paris site has to offer it but it also gives it the ability to capture significant sales elsewhere in the country through ecommerce, without the need to invest in expensive physical sites.

Online may also give the retailer valuable insights into the market as it looks for further store locations that are likely to prove successful for the other sites it plans.

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