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In one of the busiest shopping weeks of the year our COO Katie Bickerstaffe explains how much has changed in a year and how our stores are set up for success to fulfil online orders this Christmas… 

Over the past 18 months, we have seen 5-7 years’ worth of change in this industry, so we’ve had to change, to be bolder, braver, and more committed to reshaping M&S. What is considered “convenient” for our customers continues to evolve – wherever, whenever is our mantra and we believe leveraging our unique omnichannel advantage is key to winning. 

There’s no time of year when convenience is more important than Christmas – especially in November, the biggest shopping month of the year. From style choices on the app based on your browsing history to an efficient parcel pick-up in store – customers demand convenience.

It’s for this reason, offering true convenience, that we’re continuing to invest in the efficiency of click & collect – our customers’ preferred delivery option. Customers collecting in store is convenient for them, but it’s also commercially important for us. 

M&S is continuing to invest in Click & Collect

Dual channel customers (which many of these customers are) spend twice as much as those who only shop in store – to win we must ensure our customers shop not only multiple categories, but multiple channels – in-store, online, app and our services (such as Bank). Thanks to the hard work of a cross-functional MS2 team over the past 18 months, our stores are now a critical part of our supply chain network for Click & Collect. 

The acceleration of online shopping in the pandemic has been well reported, and it hit fast forward on changes underway within our business to shift to online. We adapted to this demand by scaling up our in-store pick model to more than 200 locations – at its peak these operations were fulfilling over 20% of online demand and our colleagues did an amazing job adapting to new ways of working. 

Pre-covid we had the capability, but this was the catalyst we needed to take what was effectively a “sticking plaster” for online capacity (used for around 1% of orders) and turn it into a genuine competitive advantage for good. 

Our digital experts have developed the intelligence of our systems including updating the system logic we use to ensure in-store fulfilment is the default model when an order comes in and the store the customer chooses to collect from has the item in stock (rather than our online warehouse). Alongside this our stores have been set up for success – with the right stock (so all the online favourites), the right equipment (including updated tech) and importantly the right resource. 

It’s early days, with lots of opportunity ahead, but already 9% of orders are being picked in store under the new system – that’s two million more singles being fulfilled locally every year – better for the bottom line (it’s cheaper and utilises our space) but better for the planet too, as we’re not driving product across the UK. Our 254 Clothing stores are all acting as micro-fulfilment centres and collectively they’re picking 44% of their customers’ online orders. 

M&S stores act as micro-fulfillment centres

So, if you’re picking up your new top for Christmas day there’s a good chance your local team have fulfilled that order – and actually I think there’s something really quite nice about that – in 2021 we know personalisation is key but also the personal is too. 

And it’s not just the personal touch, it’s the speed that matters – long term this model will drive down collection times – in fact we’ve already had a few instances of an online order being ready for collection in under an hour! 

Every year our 3,000 support centre colleagues go out into our stores to help deliver the best possible Christmas for our customers – service with a smile and a truly seamless experience. In the past the focus has always been on the final days – keeping the milk fridge full in the buzzing Foodhall or being an additional colleague on the till, but part of delivering the best service now means meeting the growth of online and having orders ready quickly, so this year, for the first time, colleagues are going in to help with in-store fulfilment. 

From this week (one of the biggest weeks of the entire year) when you collect your online order it may have been packed by your wonderful store team, but it may also have been packed by one our lingerie designers, our lawyers or even our treasurer. Everyone across M&S is working together to offer the best service no matter how customers shop this Christmas. 

A new in-store fulfilment model is one of several ways we’re integrating our stores and online business, including enabling contactless click and collect, easy returns and digital payment in-store to improve service and lower costs. It’s all part of offering customers a remarkable, seamless, and personalised experience every time they shop with us – instore or online.