Marks & Spencer is trialling new instore multimedia zones that help it to extend the fashion ranges it carries in smaller stores. Using new Style Online areas, shoppers in three of its stores can browse fashion products online and build outfits before ordering through touch screen order points or through style advisers carrying tablet computers.
The initiative will give customers access to M&S fashion sub-brands such as the Limited Collection, Autograph and per una in stores that would not normally offer them.
The news came as Marks & Spencer today said it had made “strong progress” against its three-year plan to become an international multichannel retailer in the first half of its financial year. It said it now had a “great team” in place, led by Tesco veteran Laura Wade-Gery, to deliver its plan of making it “even easier and more convenient to shop with M&S.”
Other multichannel developments in the first half include a new French website, to be complemented by a Paris flagship store that will open before Christmas.
As we’ve reported before, M&S is building its own web platform but said today it had been working with current provider Amazon to improve its online services. As a result, shoppers can now order their Christmas food online this year – and sales are already 16% ahead of last year. More than 100 everyday food items are now available to Click and Collect in store, where previously the service was available only for entertaining food.
In clothing customers can now personalise products including jeans, chinos and dresses to their size and preferences.
Sales at M&S Direct, its ecommerce arm, rose by 11.7% in the first half of the year, the company said today, while traffic to its website grew by 13% to more than 3m visits a week.
In the half year to October 1, Marks & Spencer group sales, excluding VAT, rose to £4.7bn, 2.4% ahead of the same time last year. Total UK sales, excluding VAT were up by 1.6% to £4.2bn, with food sales up by 3.9% and general merchandise down by 0.8% and international sales were up by 9% at £503.6m. Like-for-like sales in the UK were up by 0.5%, but pre-tax profits fell 8.1% to £320.5m from £348.6m following factors including increased spending on capital investments of £254.5m, up from £158.5m at the same time last year.
Chief executive Marc Bolland said: "Against a challenging consumer backdrop, we took decisive action to manage the business through the short term while continuing our focus on investing in creating a stronger platform for future growth.
"We have a very exciting Christmas product offer for our customers with more innovation and choice than ever before."
M&S also said it would open a dedicated ecommerce distribution centre in the East Midlands, part of a new National Distribution Centre set to be completed in 2013. The move is part of a warehouse consolidation programme that has seen a new 1m sq ft warehouse open in Bradford.
Elsewhere, highlights included further international expansion, including new stores in its priority markets of India and Shanghai, China.
Closer to home, it said, it has been trialling new improved navigation in its stores.