“Along with being the prime minister and running the BBC, people think that they can do a better job running M&S than the people doing it right now.”

This comes from Laura Wade-Geary’s keynote speech at last week’s Festival of Marketing.

Laura Wade-Geary is the executive director of multichannel at Marks and Spencer and has managed to spearhead major digital transformation for the 130-year-old retailer.

Here is some insight from the talk in regards to the three major challenges her team faced.

A changing landscape

In 2005 there were 167m domestic internet connections worldwide, for 2015 the forecast is for around 2.7bn. Although not much of a surprise, the interesting thing to takeaway from this is the fact that in 2005 none of those connections were on a mobile device. In 2015 more than three-quarters will be.

Obviously this means the commercial and consumer landscape has changed considerably and it’s vital that your business is able to serve its customers on any given available device.

If you’re a traditionally a bricks and mortar store with 130 years of history, adapting to a digitally focused, user-centric world is no easy task. 

In 2010 M&S set out to position itself as a truly international multichannel retailer. This required a huge digital transformation strategy.

M&S had three goals:

  • Move platforms.
  • Hire an entirely new digital-focused team.
  • Completely change its distribution 

New platform

Prior to this year’s launch the M&S’s website was hosted on an Amazon platform. M&S understandably wanted to take control of its own online estate.

It did this by not only building its own ecommerce site from scratch but also by putting publishing and content at its heart. Shoppers are 24% more likely to buy from a website if they’ve viewed editorial content first.

In order to re-platform the site, Marks and Spencer did all of the user-testing and segmenting you’d expect with its beta site, however it also looked at the external landscape too.

In a typical week there are approximately 100m visits to fashion retailers in the UK high street. The online figure is 250m. 

However only around 16% of all fashion sales actually take place online. Either ecommerce is doing a terrible job or it’s doing a very different job.

Laura Wade-Geary believes it is indeed doing the latter. Ecommerce is effectively being a 24/7 shop-window to the whole brand experience. Some people will choose to browse and convert online while a huge number of people will use the website but choose to purchase in-store.

M&S’s new website was built with that trend in mind along with the need to serve its mobile device users and a strong focus on content and curation

New digital mindset

There was little digital capability within the business. In order to achieve transformation, it had to start at the top in the boardroom. It did this by hiring an ecommerce expert and putting them on the board and making sure there was a digital focus in the non-executive team.

The team also took the top 100 people in the business and put them through a day and a half immersion course in digital.

The next challenge was to make every member of staff in its retail stores not treat online like it was the enemy. 

Many shop assistants were annoyed that they would put in all the hard work of selling a product to a customer, only to then have that customer go away and make the final purchase on the website. This meant they missed their sales targets.

In order to address this, Laura Wade-Geary made life ‘miserable’ for the management accountants by ensuring that everybody can claim the credit for an online sale. The retail staff, the ecommerce team, the marketing, they can all claim the sale and this helps join up the previously disparate teams.

Back in the old Amazon days, in-store staff used a completely different looking platform to help customers with their enquiries. Now the staff use the new website in-store, just like the customers do, ensuring a consistent customer experience. 

The development of the new site also took insight from front-line staff in order to make it work for them as well as it does customers.

Distribution

M&S used to fulfil its orders from a variety of depots around the country. Therefore it wasn’t just the front-end that needed transforming, M&S also had to invest in an efficient distribution network. 

In ecommerce, logistics is one of the single biggest costs and providing an efficient centralised service will provide the best possible customer service and reduce unit cost.

In April 2013, M&S opened a depot in Castle Donington and now 100% of its ecommerce is fulfilled from there.

Marks and Spencer’s first day of trading online was in 1999, some five years after the very first online transaction ever made. M&S took £1,200 that day. M&S now makes that amount every few seconds. 

Further reading…

There’s lots more on the blog about the M&S relaunch, including a lengthy piece on where the new platform made mistakes and also 11 ways M&S is improving the multichannel experience.

Econsultancy currently has a range of services available that can help guide organisational change, business restructuring and digital transformation strategy

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 19 November, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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