Marks & Spencer’s runaway hit in India: lingerie

Growing business.
Growing business.
Image: Reuters/Yves Herman
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) lingerie collection is flying off its Indian store shelves.

So brisk are the sales—40% growth over financial years 2015 and 2017—that the British retailer now plans to increase the number of its standalone lingerie stores in the country from the existing six. It already operates 63 other stores in 27 cities, the highest number of M&S stores outside the UK, through a joint venture with Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Retail.

M&S launched its inner-wear products in India in 2014 as an experiment, and was its maiden standalone outlet here was the first such by the company anywhere in the world.

“Over the last two-three years now, (lingerie) has been our fastest-growing business unit and I don’t see why that will slow down,” James Munson, managing director of Marks & Spencer India, told Quartz in an interview late last month.

“We put six stores down as a trial…we have enough confidence to move ahead with them,” said Munson, who took charge of the India business last year. He, however, declined to reveal the number of new outlets planned.

India’s inner-wear market is estimated at Rs26,500 crore ($4 billion). It is largely unorganised and dominated by local brands that retail mostly through small mom-and-pop stores. Larger companies, including MAS Holdings, Page, Rupa & Co, Lovable, and Gokaldas Intimate, sell both through their own stores as well as other retail formats. In comparison, M&S’s business here is fairly small but growing.

Over the last decade, however, organised lingerie retail has benefited from a shift in people’s tastes and rising incomes.

“As a market, (India) is becoming more aligned to what we see in the West. The demand (for lingerie) is growing exponentially compared to other areas of our business. People are moving towards fashion-led products (in inner-wear) as opposed to practical products,” said Munson.

For instance, in the middle of last year, non-wired bras began outselling underwired ones at M&S, an indication that women were following fashion trends and not considering mere utility. Similarly, demand for coloured inner-wear has gone up.

To drive volumes, the company also slashed prices last year.

And that’s something it’s doing across businesses. Since Munson took over in May 2017, it has lowered the prices for all categories to stave off competition from fast-fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M. It has also bolstered its online presence. 

For the year ended March 31, 2017, M&S posted a turnover of Rs880 crore in India, up 16% from the previous year, according to data provided by the company.