M&S Striving for Competitive Advantage

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Introduction

A firm's strategy is said to be its long-term objectives or its direction in its quest to gain and sustain competitive advantage over its rivals.

In this race to achieve competitive advantage, a firm must ask itself 3 questions, what forms of value do we seek to create? How do we create this value? And how is the value creation process organised or managed?

I have chosen to research the food department of Marks & Spencer in order to gain an insight into what strategies they use in an attempt to gain competitive advantage.

Marks & Spencer have outlined the following as their core values

•Quality
•Value
•Service
•Innovation and
•Trust

As a company it is vital that they keep in mind these core values when they are deciding which strategies to employ.

To begin I will carry out a SWOT analysis, as this is a useful analytical tool in giving us a good idea of which strategies they may decide to use. Once the strategies have been identified, an in depth look into each will show why M&S use such strategies as well how they give M&S the competitive advantage they need to succeed.

SWOT Analysis

By looking at Marks & Spencer's food department in this way, we can begin to craft out different kinds of strategy that they use in order to gain competitive advantage.

The strategies employed will be born from the strengths and opportunities that the food department possess and used to combat the weaknesses and threats that the food department see as factors that could disrupt progress.

The basis for the strategies that M&S food department use takes an almost top-to-bottom approach. It begins with an issue that M&S as a company take very seriously, and that is Corporate Social Responsibility. A second strategy that links into CSR is supply chain management, and the way that M&S food products are sourced and how they eventually arrive on the shop floor shelves.

Following on from this issue I will continue to look at how M&S use innovation and product differentiation in order to gain competitive advantage, and lastly how M&S have looked to manage their property portfolio in an attempt to reach out further to their customers.

I will now look at how Corporate Social Responsibility is used by M&S food in an attempt to gain competitive advantage.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Whilst some organisations see such an activity as an unwanted cost, M&S have pioneered the use of Corporate Social Responsibility and turned it into an opportunity to gain competitive advantage.

In today's society, the consumer has a lot of power, especially in an industry such as retail and specifically here with supermarkets, therefore simply being able to provide a product of either superior quality or low cost might not always be enough. It is the companies overall appearance that is also important and the way that they go about their business that can have a huge affect on sales as well as consumer perceptions.

In some cases, companies that have not always taken such a socially responsible stance have suffered and have been shown up by organisations such as Greenpeace and such an impact that these protests can have that in some cases consumer boycotts can occur and the business in question can get into real trouble.

In a recent survey, 97% of customers claimed that they thought Corporate Social Responsibility was important (Marks & Spencer Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2006). Taking note from this, Marks & Spencer have taken the lead in the UK and become one of the most socially responsible companies around.

In 2006, a year of significant achievements, a number of initiatives stood out. M&S became the only major retailer to sell only fair trade coffee both in their in store cafes and in their food halls.

Healthy eating is becoming increasingly important to M&S customers also. The "eat well" sunflower now makes up 20% of the entire food catalogue. Also in...
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