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Marks & Spencer reconsiders how it sells in France – and Europe – post-Brexit

11 M&S Food shops in Paris are to close

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is looking again at the way it sells in France – and more widely in Europe – post-Brexit.

The retailer currently sells in France through a bricks-and-clicks model. It has 20 M&S Food stores in the country, operated with a franchise partner, and sells homewares and clothing online for home delivery or pick-up from a third-party collection point. 

Now M&S says it is reviewing its store franchise business, in the light of the changes brought by Brexit. Following the UK’s departure from the EU, a new trade deal was signed on December 24 2020 and took effect on January 1 2021. That removed tariffs and quotas on trade between the UK and EU countries, but meant that new checks and red tape were put in place between the two markets for the first time in more than 40 years. The EU rules are particularly stringent around imports of animal products. 

An M&S spokesperson says in a statement today: “In light of the new customs arrangements we are taking decisive steps to reconfigure our European operations and have already made changes to food export into Czech Republic. We operate a franchise business in France and are currently undertaking a review of the model with our two partners in the market.”

The Daily Mail reported at the weekend that M&S may close its French stores. It says that the regulations on getting goods into Europe, post-Brexit, have left M&S’ Paris shop with empty shelves.  Its sister paper, The Mail on Sunday, has previously reported that the EU’s border regulations, applicable to the UK since January 1, mean that only two-thirds of sandwiches were able to get to stores – and that short delays can render them unsaleable. 

M&S, ranked Elite in RXUK Top500 research, has been seeing the effect of Brexit on its business since the shape of the post-Brexit trade deal was struck on Christmas Eve 2020. The retailer said in January 2021 that while the the deal would not add tariffs to goods it sells in its UK stores, it would add both tariffs and bureaucracy to the goods it exports to the EU. This, it said at the time, would “significantly impact our businesses in Ireland, the Czech Republic and our franchise business in France, which we are actively working to mitigate”. 

In March it announced that it had expanded its international online business  to more than 100 markets through 46 flagship websites selling homewares and clothing – as it responded to the shift online that has taken place around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

M&S only returned to the French market in 2011, following a previous exit in 2001 that resulted in the closure of more than 40 shops across Europe, including 18 in France. In 2011 it launched a market-specific French website and planned a three-storey shop on the Champs-Elysées. Since then, its clothing stores have given way to online-only and the retailer has focused on its food business in France. 

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