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M&S expands online sales capacity in distribution centre and stores ahead of ‘most digital Christmas yet’

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Marks & Spencer is expanding its online sales capacity in both its stores and its distribution centre ahead of what it expects to be its most digital Christmas yet. 

During Covid-19 lockdown the retailer saw customers turn to online shopping fast. It reported a 39.2% rise in online sales in August while its app has been downloaded 1.5m times since its Sparks loyalty scheme was relaunched in July. Now, it says, Christmas-related searches are already up by 80% compared to the same time last year. It is responding both by expanding its online distribution team and by increasing the way its stores are used in online distribution.

Expanding online distribution

The retailer is responding by building capacity at its Castle Donington, Leicestershire, distribution site. Since July it has taken on 400 permanent members of staff and it is taking on more than 500 temporary workers for the Christmas period. As a result, its distribution centre will have a team of about 4,000 people over Christmas – almost a third up on the 3,000 people who worked there in 2019. Social distancing measures are in place and all new staff are now trained in a variety of core tasks  in order to ensure the workforce can respond in an agile manner. 

The site features automated technology alongside a growing number of staff. Two new ‘auto bagger’ machines can pack 2,000 items an hour, while Microsoft Power business intelligence and the use of Microsoft Teams has helped to make operations more efficient. This year will be the first time a new 245k sq ft mezzanine floor at Castle Donington is fully operational – capable of despatching up to 75,000 items at once, following the use of new IT mapping that makes picking and packing more efficient. Last year the record despatch from the mezzanine was 50,000 items.

Paul Burns, M&S clothing and home head of logistics, said: “We’re set up to ensure our colleagues can safely help our customers shop online with confidence this Christmas – from great new team members to investing in our tech.”

Boosting online in-store

Staff at 140 M&S stores are already picking online orders, either for click and collect or for home delivery. That’s up from 86 a year ago. A further 100 stores are ready to start packing orders in response to local demand. 

M&S says the Covid-19 lockdown changed the way shoppers took delivery of their orders, with more than 40% of M&S parcels collected from an M&S Food store – up from 30% last year. It is now extending a contactless click and collect system trialled at four shops to 12 more during November. 

Marks & Spencer is ranked Elite in RXUK Top500 research.

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