ANYONE who knows me, knows Marks & Spencer isn’t merely another retail store, it is my favouriteretail store, writes Sammy Jones.
I adore the place, actually.
When pancake time rolls around, you won’t find me cracking eggs and adding a dash of milk: the M&S pre-mix batter is where it’s at.
And have you checked its homeware department?
Forget shopping there, I could move in.
So, when I was invited for a walk around the new branch at MK1, I couldn’t refuse: It would be like Carrie from Sex and the City saying ‘no’ a guided tour of Jimmy Choo, or Shameless pub dweller Frank Gallagher refusing a pint. Ridiculous.
“We have one of the biggest home catalogues that the business does,” says manager Emily King, greeting me at the front of the store, and gesturing upstairs.
But before we step on to the escalator, I am swept around the ground floor.
Racks of fashionable pieces and classy clothes tempt you to leave your designated route and engage with the hangers.
And ladies and gents, these days your M&S is not frumpy, but rather fabulous: “We still do the core brands we are famous for, but actually what brands like Autograph and Per Una do is bring in key fashion pieces which appeal to the younger customer and invites them to look at M&S differently too...
“It can be a one-stop shop,” Emily enthuses of her store, and the surrounding area.
“Over the next few years this will build into a place to come and shop, eat and spend a good quality amount of your time.”
Aside from the homeware department (with its perfectly laid tables, snuggly sofas and plumped up bedding, naturally), the MK1 branch benefits from the latest technology.
If you want help, help yourselves – giant iPads provide inspiration.
“You can scan, pay, search, print out product codes, all sorts,” Emily demonstrates, “...I keep saying to everyone that with this technology we really do have the whole of M&S under our roof.”
The technology won’t replace the personable staff on the shop floor though, and with seasonal temps also on the rota, the store currently employs 200 workers.
And frustrated couples need no longer argue the footie-shopping divide – he can watch the MK Dons, while she shops ’til she drops (or the final whistle blows!)
“As a business, we are focused around quality and value and I think we are really comfortable that giving our customers fantastic products that will last, and the heritage we have will see us through,” she says giving a nod to the current testing economic climate.
Then I get to experience first hand, the personable customer service M&S prides itself on, with a mini-makeover.
As an oversized jumper and jeans wearer, a visit to the racks of Per Una or Autograph is not a regular occurrence. But with a fabulous personal shopper at my side, I find myself breaking through the ‘jeans barrier’ and into some dresses.
In the process, I even discovered a pair of very long lost pals – legs!
When I leave my spacious temporary home behind a curtain, I do so with a little more confidence (thanks to that staff expertise), a mini-wardrobe of ideas, and clutching new core clothing pieces I never thought I would try, let alone buy. My emergence back into the store is like coming out of the Tardis – from the darkness, to the light.
Granted, my visit might not have been so much about the time travel, but it is easy to lose track of time in this most inviting of stores.
Just how good was the experience?
Well, if I tell you that two days later I was back in store, credit card in hand and ready for a work out, you can do the maths...