Marks & Spencer – Retail Strategy
Retail strategy score 25/25
It’s not often in the world of internet retail that you hear Amazon described as inflexible and slow, or as one commentator put it “an old donkey”. However, as Amazon moved away from its enterprise platform proposition, that is exactly how M&S viewed its digital infrastructure. An inability to set the digital agenda was a significant constraint to M&S, with the platform clearly being more suited to the Amazon product range, vast as it is, than to the dynamic and much more aesthetic world of fast moving fashion.
Having now re-launched on a new platform, the future for M&S.com is much more exciting, with some significant changes already catching the attention of external parties. When surveying the 'Googlesphere' two factoids were frequently repeated – the new website has cost £150m and it has taken over two years to deliver, with the underlying suggestion that it had better be good. Reality is often less sensational and both the cost and timescales are reflective of a much more significant programme of work sitting behind the first and most visible milestone. More interesting is the cultural shift underway in how M&S thinks about and executes digital.
The website itself hints at the magnitude of change within the business as M&S makes a bold move towards a content and editorial style interface more associated with ASOS. Leaving performance issues aside, the execution of the user experience is simple and elegant, with an emphasis on quality imagery and a depth of content sourced from external fashion commentators as well as in-house. The standout change however is not in the visual design but more the core concept which sits behind it: M&S has an opinion on fashion and isn’t afraid to share it. This brave shift gives an instant authenticity to the content-based approach and moves its role from passive to active facilitator. This approach is enhanced further by the decision to focus on curated looks, with 50% of the range presented as outfits.
In a digital world that is increasingly focused on customer relationships, having an opinion and sharing it is what starts the conversation. Integrating the editorial hub with social media channels reflects a commitment to a channel strategy that firmly establishes social within the multichannel mix, rather than as an isolated marketing campaign.
External communications are referencing the website as the window into M&S stores and therefore integral to a single customer experience executed across multiple channels. But although the website clearly stimulates the most response from pundits and customers, there are additional elements of the M&S strategy that are worthy of note.
The revamp of its contact centre and the opening of a new 900,000 sq ft ecommerce DC at Castle Donington are considerable investments. In terms of stock availability, there is work to do in order to reach the ‘click & collect’ nirvana of picking stock from store when it is available and only using DC delivery to store when necessary. However they are already ahead of many retailers in supporting near real-time stock availability online, providing information on stock quantity. In addition, M&S Food has seen some great results from its predictive analysis work on stock holding and replenishment, aiming to roll this out to general merchandise in order to reach a 9% improvement in stock availability by 2015/16.
Alongside all of these positives, there are some challenges ahead. Firstly, M&S digital channels have been in growth and outperforming stores for the last few years making it harder for the new infrastructure to prove its commercial benefit against some already hefty YOYs. In addition, the market remains unconvinced about the M&S product range in many areas, with womenswear continuing to come under scrutiny around target customer, conflicting brands and fashion credentials. The multichannel experience can only go so far to drive the business forward if the product proposition remains unclear.
However, in the new website M&S has a strong channel proposition, and the flexibility to adapt to a changing market and customer base. To quote the famous M&S Food adverts – this is not just a website redesign, this is an M&S website design: a multichannel strategy spearheaded by the website, with a generous side order of cultural change and underlying infrastructure. Tuck in.Scoring
The simple scoring from Transform is based on whether or not five services are offered by the retailer in the UK with a score of 0 for no and 5 for yes. On this basis, Marks & Spencer scores 25/25.
Collection in-store: Yes
Mobile app: Yes
Mobile web: Yes
iPad app: Yes
In-store tech: Yes