M&S in electrical challenge to Currys and Tesco

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer is to add electrical departments to 13 of its largest stores in a bid to take on specialist retailers such as Currys, as well as the supermarket group Tesco. The retailer has been trialling the sale of a small range of electrical goods in a little more than 50 stores for the past year, but now wants to begin the roll-out of full-scale electrical departments.

During the trial, M&S concentrated on small electrical devices, such as digital radios and home phones, selling them through existing departments such as homewares and menswear.

However, the retailer now wants to sell a more comprehensive range of goods - including televisions, audio equipment and digital cameras - through standalone departments in its existing stores.

A spokeswoman for the retailer said: "The trial has gone OK, but customers have told us that, while they are happy to buy electrical goods from us, they would rather deal with one department staffed by specialist advisers, particularly for the more high-tech items."

M&S has already recruited 150 sales assistants for the initiative, some of whom have been redeployed from other areas, and begun training them to advise customers on electrical goods.

The first new electrical department is under construction and is on target to open a week on Thursday at M&S's flagship Marble Arch store in central London. The retailer plans a further 12 openings at its largest UK stores, including shops in Newcastle, Manchester, Southampton and the Metro and Bluewater shopping centres just outside Gateshead and London respectively.

While the new range will include microwave ovens, so far M&S has ruled out expanding into white goods, such as fridges and washing machines, partly due to space constraints. A lack of space will also restrict the new departments to its largest stores.

However, in addition, the existing trial selling a smaller range is to be expanded so that up to 80 stores begin stocking electrical items, with a particular emphasis on handsets for mobile and landline telephones. "These will be goods that shoppers feel comfortable buying without taking advice from a specialist," the spokeswoman said.

The move into electrical by M&S is a direct incursion on the territory of retailers such as the specialist Currys chain. It also follows an announcement last week from Tesco, which said it would expand the range of electrical goods on sale in its stores and especially through its home shopping services.

Tesco's initiative is expected to be of most threat to Argos, the retailer owned by GUS, which will also now face pressure from M&S.

Stuart Rose, M&S's chief executive, who has presided over an upturn in the retailer's fortunes, said earlier this year that he planned to expand into other retail areas in the latest phase of the three-year recovery plan launched in 2004.