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M& is changing. We’re concentrating on improving the online offer to give our customers more reasons to shop on our website, creating a digital-led customer experience and maximising M&S’s omnichannel advantage

Guest brands are an important way we’re giving customers more reasons to browse & buy, and this week marks another milestone with the launch of our newest guest brand and first footwear only offer – Havaianas. It comes following the successful launches of the 11 brands we announced in March – all of which can now be found on our new dedicated ‘Brands at M&S’ page. Now we just need the summer to kick in!

With store restrictions in place, we’ve had to operate much more like a pure player over the last year – and it’s been the catalyst this retailer of over 130 years has needed. When I joined the team in June to head up M&, I joined a team ready to turbocharge the online proposition as part of M&S’s ‘Never the Same Again’ programme, and ready to build on the position we took on last summer as the second biggest online clothing retailer. 

Customer adoption of online shopping has of course been accelerated by the pandemic – and last summer we had nearly 2m new customers on M& But it’s also been driven by the changes we’ve made which have helped us deliver – growing our online market share across all different areas of our business and even topping the app download charts last Autumn. 

In addition to launching guest brands, I’ve pulled out seven key changes throughout the online journey that have started us on our plan to turbocharge online growth: something that we’ll continue to do under MS2 - which brings together the data and online teams to invert the conventional model where M& had been run as an extension of our stores business. 

Seven key changes to M& over the past year

  1. All About the App: The M&S App should provide customers with the very best experience, so we’ve been focused on making it more accessible – putting the best of M& at customers’ fingertips. App customers are more frequent shoppers (so they really matter!) and a big way we’ve driven downloads is through relaunching Sparks as a digital-first offer. In 2020 downloads increased by 200%. 
  2. Helpful Homepage: 30% of customers land on the site via the homepage so it’s a really important first impression of our brand. Overall we’re doing more to personalise M&, but especially this important page, and it’s all about leveraging the work of our digital & data team. On the homepage we’re using automated personalisation to fill our two big trade tiles from a selection of over 20 options and this is improving click-through rates by up to 18% compared to static content. Everything we do is underpinned by experimentation – we’ve ran over 150 experiments this year in personalisation – we test quickly to see what works and either scale it or move on.
  3. Compelling ContentAcross the site we’ve improved our photography to drive style perceptions, and we’ve also responded to customers’ increased engagement on our sustainability credentials. For example, last year we added information about the fabric sustainability to over 4,000 of our online products. Additionally we’re doing more to encourage reviews. In the past six months reviews on our websites were +158% vs the same time last year (with the average product rating over 4.2 stars) – we know encouraging reviews helps as they drive purchases. This advocacy is also really important on social which is why we’re continuing with our colleague “insider” programme on Instagram – our latest recruit is @marksandspencer_robyn, a menswear buying assistant who posts all about our newest products. 
  4. Upping Availability: Previously on M& you could only search and purchase product that was already in the pick slots of our online fulfilment centre Castle Donington (so ready to be picked & packed). By utilising our stores network (as a series of micro-fulfilment centres) and by having visibility of what’s in transit to Castle Donington, we now have more product available for customers, so a dress still on its way to Castle Donington can now be added to your basket. It means more choice for customers & more potential sales for us. Additionally we’re working hard to create new capacity in the network – with work underway to create a second fulfilment centre at Bradford. 
  5. More Ways to Pay: The payment experience is an important part of the online journey and over the past year we’ve introduced new options including interest free loans for furniture, PayPal instalments and Apple Pay – ensuring customers have a breadth of choice which we know really matters to them. 
  6. Contactless Click & Collect: Customers want their parcels quickly & efficiently – around half of customers collect the next day - so we’ve improved the efficiency of our collection service and we’re trialling new approaches such as contactless options & digital check-in. Especially where we have online-only propositions like guests brands, it’s important we’re offering an amazing experience for these customers when they check us out in store – success is a customer picking up their Sosandar dress and filling their trolley at the same time.
  7. All Underpinned by TechFinally, we’ve invested in the scalability & stability of our site with technical upgrades that, whilst aren’t tangible to the customer or particularly exciting, have led to a faster & better customer experience. Looking forward, these updates will also mean we can develop & add new features to the site much more efficiently. 

It’s been a really busy year for a great and importantly growing team. We’ve made some significant changes to our structure - creating new functions, (commercial, site trading, proposition development) - and have integrated the customer channels marketing function and editorial content team into dotcom.

We’re currently recruiting a number of roles across our dedicated commercial and trade teams – teams we recently split out to allow them to focus on what they do best. For the commercial team, that’s ensuring our product engine is focused on dotcom, while for the trade teams, it’s all about trading the website – driving traffic and creating inspirational data-driven customer journeys. I know these new recruits will play a big role in the exciting plans we have to turbocharge growth on M&