M&S bag.jpgMarks & Spencers, the most famous name in UK High Street retailing, is planning an ambitious international expansion that does not include China — at least for now.

When
barely a week seems to pass without a western retailer proclaiming big
plans for China, the hesitation of M&S is puzzling, to say the
least.

Of course, M&S is, rightly or wrongly, seen as one of
the more conservative names in UK retailing — it stubbornly held out
against opening on Sundays while its rivals eagerly embraced the
shop-till-you-drop trend.

And despite the foreigners who flock its London stores, M&S has struggled to develop a coherent international strategy.

The retailer closed its directly-owned European stores
in 2001 and its international operations, which contribute just 9% of
profits, now consist mainly of franchised stores spread across 30
countries.

Nevertheless, M&S has decided that the time is
ripe for a major foreign expansion and it plans to open around 150 new
stores outside the UK using the franchise model.

This summer
M&S will open its largest international franchise outlet yet – in
Dubai. Once the franchise model has been shown to work in a
large-format store, I suspect M&S will use it in China.

However, it remains to be seen how well Chinese shoppers will take to M&S mainstays such as knickers and chicken tikka.

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