M&S launches new website: what the experts say

There have been a number of significant developments at Marks & Spencer (M&S) this week, with the high street retailer unveiling a flagship store in The Hague, Netherlands on Thursday.

A new website was also launched at the start of the week, replacing the platform provided by Amazon for the last seven years. The new desktop site, which has been developed with vendors TCS and Sapient Nitro alongside an in-house team, is accompanied by a dedicated tablet experience and new-look mobile sites and apps.

Built to give M&S more flexibility in their multichannel evolution, the new website includes features such as larger images, zoom functions, improved navigation menus and 360 degree videos to give customers a better understanding of how clothing products move and fit. A dedicated editorial hub called 'Style & Living' also offers daily updated news and advice from celebrity and guest editors.

Laura Wade-Gery, executive director for multichannel eCommerce at M&S, commented: "We now have the capability to respond quickly and efficiently ­ in a world where customers, technology and trends are constantly evolving."

Essential Retail caught up with a selection of retail commentators to get their views on the new portal and what it means for the company's wider multichannel retail strategy.

Daniel Lucht, director at Research Farm, said: "The Amazon web store is a really great platform for smaller 3P sellers. It's quite a standardised module, which has ensured consistency across the site and sellers and has set the standard in terms of being perceived as probably the most professional and customer friendly online storefront.

"Arguably the issue for M&S is that a retailer of this size and standing needs a platform with features and functions that can be a bit more reflective of the iconic status of the brand. In other words M&S is now a lot freer to implement what it wants without having to push Amazon for changes in the back end. The Amazon web store was a great platform for M&S in the early stages, but arguably the company should have left this set-up a lot earlier.

"If you look at this in context with the reorganisation of the warehouse and logistics infrastructure and the investment into the new London Gateway port you get the impression that M&S's online business is now ready to really go places. The onus on M&S is now to make the parts all fit together seamlessly (IT, fulfilment, front-end, etc)."

Matt Piner, research director at Conlumino, said: "Although the site can be chalked up as a win for M&S (despite some initial teething problems), it is far from a silver bullet.

"The website itself is a big improvement, but Next still leads the way on the operational side of selling online, with its delivery cut off times and ordering to stores in particular. Most crucial of all considerations, though, is product. M&S now has a website that feels a bit more special; it now needs the stock it sells to match."

Jo Coxhill, director at Vision 29, said: "The overall feel and format has fallen quite squarely in line with the clean, white 'Apple style' that so many websites follow nowadays. The positive is its familiarity for visitors but the downside is the sameness as so many other high street retail websites.

"Its magazine format of the Style and Living section, which focuses of key trends supported with images of celebrities sporting those styles and the ability for visitors to share pages and images via social media is a great multichannel engagement angle.

"Whilst the M&S social media sites do reference the new website, they could be doing more to tie these two channels together – maybe they’re holding off whilst they sort out some of the bugs and customer dissatisfaction with the new site."

Tim Denison, director at Ipsos Retail Performance, said: "A fit for purpose website is an essential part of every leading retailer’s marketing armoury with global aspirations. This was starkly evident over the Christmas trading period.

"Those that had a truly seamless omnichannel presence and capability that enabled people to shop easily and at their convenience were the winners – M&S clearly missed out, partly due to a tired and ineffectual website.

"The design of the new site seems to tick many boxes, offering improved visuals of product including videos, daily updated editorial commentary and fashion guidance, and an easy buying process."

Kate Ormrod, retail analyst at Verdict Retail, said: "The editorial content is key for M&S as it will provide inspiration for visitors and help to convert them into customers and increase basket sizes as well.

"I expect this, combined with its new distribution centre, to drive online demand and help the channel take a larger proportion of overall M&S sales. What is crucial however is that M&S can cope with this demand, in terms of stock availability. While its recent ranges were praised by the fashion press, stock availability has been a weakness for the department store and needs to be addressed in order to reap the benefits of the revamped website."

Matthew Cushen, retail expert and director at strategic innovation consultancy ?What If!, said: "After a three-year development you would have expected the navigation to work all the way through, and it looks distinctly 'inspired by' Net-a-Porter. But overall, let’s celebrate the multichannel team who have managed to push the conservative M&S boundaries in a way the rest of the business is failing to do and created something that gives some personality to the brand.

"A healthy debate about the website is the most passion I’ve heard about M&S since the Jeremy Paxman pants exposé."


What do you think? We are keen to hear the industry's views on the M&S multichannel strategy and the retailer's new web platform. Please feel free to comment below or contact us on Twitter @EssRetail.


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