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INTERVIEW & ANALYSIS Is M&S a reflection of how Middle England shops online?

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Marks & Spencer spent two years researching and testing with customers and staff before launching its new website on Tuesday. What does that insight tell us about how Middle England shops online?

As Chloe Rigby reported on the day of the site launch, the new Marks & Spencer site has a cleaner, more visually inspiring style than the old site and has been designed following two years of extensive research and testing with customers and staff as well as analysis of customer feedback and analytics on the old site.

Some 40 key customer insights were pinpointed and these have been translated into a site that delivers a better browsing experience, with 14% improvement to the quality of search returns, and an improved buying process, according to the company. Global navigation, for example, has been improved since it’s used by 70% of customers and the amount of photography has increased by over 20%.

“We’ve put customers at the heart of our rebuild so that our new site really reflects how they want to browse and shop with us,” says Laura Wade-Gery, executive director multichannel ecommerce at Marks & Spencer. “Online acts as the shop window to all our stores, products and brand, so we’ve used bigger bolder and better styled imagery, and we aim to inspire and help our customers with a clear style point of view and compelling editorial content that’s refreshed on a daily basis.”

Customers told M&S that they want to know about trends and want help finding what’s best for them and since customers are 24% more likely to buy if they view editorial content first so M&S is pushing its editorial hub under the navigation heading of ‘Style and Living’. This editorial hub is being run by journalists – with celebrities and guest editors – rather than merchandisers.

Style advice and curation is one of three key points that Wade-Gery emphasises about the new site. Pictures and shop by outfit are the other two.

Around 40% of M&S’ customers shop for outfits rather than single items so around half of womenswear is being shown as outfits with recommendations featured on the product page or as part of styled galleries. Customers also have the option to browse for outfits by trend, occasion or as personalised recommendation through the Dressipi service which has been carried over from the old site.

Pictures are 50% bigger with products shown as cut outs or on model shots depending on where the customer is in the purchasing journey. A new maxi zoom feature, catwalk and 360 degree video enable the customer to see more of each product.

“If you’re shopping online you’re essentially buying a photo,” says Wade-Gery. The first thing a customer asks themselves is ‘Do I like it?'” she says, explaining that customer can then click through to see a whole outfit with prices and product names on the product page. They can also add items to their shopping bag without leaving the page.

Mobile and iPad optimised sites were launched at the same time to ensure a coherent customer experience across channels. The new site also runs the in-store iPads and kiosks.

“We now have the capability to respond quickly and efficiently in a world where customers, technology and trends are constantly evolving,” says Wade-Gery.

The site is not a fait accompli but something that will continue to evolve with regular new releases and updates. This is something that M&S is more able to do with its own platform, having moved off the Amazon platform upon which the UK M&S site had been running. Wade-Gery says the parting was necessary since Amazon as a pureplayer continues to change its business focus away from its platform business and M&S’ requirements as a cross-channel business.

Stock availability on the site is refreshed every 15 minutes, an increase on the twice a day of the Amazon platform, and a real-time check is run when a customer adds an item to their basket so that the item can be reserved. The stock checks are run against the ecommerce warehouse which is “coming on stream as planned” and will be “running at full pelt by the middle of the year”.

M&S is in the process of reinventing its general merchandise systems so will be able to view a stock file for in store “sometime later this year” – and opening the potential for orders to be reserved from store stock.

The website is the next stage of M&S ‘ transformation and has been launched with the existing delivery options and a default to click and collect since 50-53% of orders are collected from store. The platform brings together the customer-facing interfaces within one single system which the company can update and evolve and systems and processes are being put in place for the next phase of M&S’ cross-channel journey. While comments on IR following Tuesday’s launch show that not everyone is in agreement on the browsing and navigability of the new site, it is what M&S customers say they want.

• Marks & Spencer opened a new flagship store in The Hague this week as part of its clicks and bricks strategy to become an international multichannel retailer.

Customers shopping at the three-floor, 4,800 sq m store, will be able to shop an extended range from iPad-wielding customer assistants. The store is also equipped with in-store wi-fi. The store is M&S’ largest on the Continent so far, although a 6,100 sq m store will open in Amsterdam in 2016.

Julia Monro, social media manager at M&S, will be speaking at IRX 2014. She’ll be speaking in the Digital Sales and Marketing conference on Thursday March 27. Her retailer case study, Where’s the ROI in Social Media?, will take place at 12.30pm. Find out more about IRX 2014 and register for free here.

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