M&S has launched a virtual influencer in what it says is a first for the UK high street. Mira joins a team that is now expanding to 13 M&S insider influencers – from store assistants and stylists to buyers and designers – who share style inspiration and products with their followers.
Virtual character Mira, whose name is derived from Marks & Spencer, Influencer, Reality, Augmented, is described as being 32 and working in the M&S support centre as a digital designer. Mira will promote ‘must buys’ via channels including Instagram She joins alongside four new stylists focusing on menswear, children’s clothing and beauty.
M&S says that the launch of a virtual character means it will be able to experiment by responding to trending conversations quickly, while enabling it to connect with a younger audience and with those who are more interested in this use of technology.
It also says its insiders see engagement with their content that is an average of 30% higher than its external influencer programmes. M&S also cites McKinsey research that suggests one in four people in the UK say they are influenced by social media to buy clothes.
Anna Braithwaite, director of marketing for clothing and home at M&S, says: “We are excited to welcome Mira – UK retail’s first Virtual Influencer – to our M&S Insider family. Her introduction is the just latest example of how M&S is testing and learning with emerging technology and trends to inspire our customers – whether that’s our Live Shopping events or our expert online consultation services such as digital bra fit. A virtual influencer means we can be more fleet of foot in responding to trends and conversations and opens possibilities in both the physical and virtual world in the future.”
Mira was created in collaboration with creative tech agency, Happy Finish.
Jeremy Yates, director of strategic partnerships at Happy Finish, says: “It’s brilliant to see our latest project with M&S launch today. Marks & Spencer are real leaders when it comes to strategic use of cutting-edge technology to engage existing and new audiences. A big part of our work for M&S focuses on helping the brand unlock new ways to bring its product ranges to life and enrich customer experience. Creating Mira to complement the existing M&S Insiders team is set to do both.”
The step is part of a shift towards online and multichannel services that have included the launch of digital click and collect, which now sees one in two online orders fulfilled this way, the launch of online personal video consultations, and live shopping, which has now launched its Christmas series of live events.
Flexible working options in-store
Marks & Spencer is offering in-store staff new flexible working options including a four day week and an expansion of job sharing. The changes are designed to give existing staff a better work/life balance while helping it to attract talent in a competitive market.
From January 2023, more than 3,000 M&S retail managers will have the option of more flexible working hours – including a four-day compressed week or a nine-day compressed fortnight as well as full-time and part-time options. The retailer is also launching a job share finder in order to make it easier for staff to take up the concept. The idea came from staff at M&S’ International Women’s Day Ideathon.
Sarah Findlater, group HR director at M&S, says:“We want M&S to be a great place to work and shop – that means having engaged colleagues with a good work-life balance. Retail is a fast-paced industry but that shouldn’t mean missing out on the moments that matter. Whether caring commitments, the chance to get involved in your local community or to prioritise your own mental and physical wellbeing.
“We’ve listened to colleagues and are determined to create a cultural shift to flexible working across our stores. Those retail managers taking part in our compressed hours trial agree it’s been a gamechanger by giving them more choice and autonomy. We’re also always keen to put colleague ideas into action like our new Job Share Finder and are determined to keep exploring ideas that transform the way we work at M&S.”
M&S is ranked Elite in RXUK Top500 research.