Marks & Spencer Bitten By Brassiere Battle

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is facing an onslaught of negative responses from women who are outraged by its decision to charge an extra 2 pounds ($3) for large brassieres. The attack it being led by a group called Busts 4 Justice that has grown to several thousand members via Facebook.Here’s what Busts 4 Justice co-founder Beckie Williams had to say:

People think it would be great to have big boobs, but it’s an emotional issue, it can make you feel isolated, and shopping at Marks & Spencer can make you feel like a freak when they charge you extra.

Here’s what a spokesperson for M&S had to say:

At DD and above, the weight of a woman’s breast requires additional support, fabric and structure in a bra and from our years of experience we know it’s critical not to cut corners on this… it would be impossible to cut prices on large-size bras without reducing quality.

My take: The decision by M&S seems reasonable (passing the extra cost to consumers) and so does the outrage from a segment of customers that is negatively impacted by the decision. Social media makes it easier for a dispersed set of customers to connect and generate a louder collective voice.

Does that mean that companies need to succumb to every protest? No. As I’ve said before, customers are not always right. But there are some lessons that companies can learn:

  • Get proactive. Whenever a company makes a decision like changing prices, they need to understand what the impact is on different customer constituents. If possible, proactively reach out to the negatively impacted customers. In case of M&S bra pricing, why not phase in the price changes to give customers a chance to make purchases before the increase. Or have one week a year where you roll back the price increase.
  • Choose your message carefully. In this world of social media, words and messages are even more important — because they become so highly scrutinized. Companies need to be transparent about “why” they are doing things. In the case of M&S, the retailer could have said that they were forced to increase prices for the brassiere category and felt like this was a fairer way to do it then to raise prices for everyone (given that the larger bras cost considerably more to manufacture).
  • Make sure to listen. As more customer groups use social media as a meeting ground for sharing their opinions, companies need to build up their listening skills — starting with an understanding of how to analyze unstructured, unsolicited feedback. But listening is only the first step in a good voice of the customer program, as companies also need to interpret, react, and monitor.
  • Be empathetic. As the number of groups that come together and complain continues to rise, companies need to get better at dealing with these issues. While they can’t give in to every request (if M&S raised prices on all bras, then they’d likely hear complaints from a group of women who buy smaller bras), firms need to develop communications that reflect an empathy for the affected customers.

The bottom line: Get ready to deal with unexpected customer segments

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

3 Responses to Marks & Spencer Bitten By Brassiere Battle

  1. Apparently they’ve revoked the price increase due to public pressure

    http://tinyurl.com/qpufma

  2. Busy Izzi says:

    Lessons learned? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. It’s true, particularly when it’s related to basic needs, such as underwear. If you check the pricing of underwear for men and for women, women always pay more. How much engineering/cloth/elastic goes into a thong? Is it really appropriate to charge $10 for that item of “clothing”? Of course not. So M&S, get real. Make your profit on thongs, not on bras.

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