M&S in-store technology drive gathering pace

When Marks & Spencer (M&S) CEO Marc Bolland said last month that the retailer is being transformed into "a stronger, more agile business – putting the right infrastructure, capabilities and talent in place to drive our strategic priorities", it was perhaps easy to view the comment as typical senior executive spiel on a large corporate organisation's annual results day.

At the time he was referring to such internal projects as the work towards a single-tier logistics network, a recently upgraded eCommerce platform that, after a slow start, is now in growth and the further maturity of M&S's eCommerce distribution centre.

M&S will be looking to each of these areas of business development to help turn around stuttering general merchandise sales, maintain encouraging food revenue and continue the overall momentum that has resulted in the company reporting its first year-on-year annual pre-tax profit rise under Bolland's stewardship

At an event in London on Thursday, however, it became clear that the high street retailer is undertaking significant work in introducing in-store technology, which is seemingly helping the business learn more about its customers and continue the organisation's evolution to a digitally-powered retail outfit.

Representing M&S at One Connected Community's Your In-Store Digital Technology Day were Claire Zuurbier, head of development for digital stores, and Benjy Meyer, head of operations for M&S.com and digital stores, who both spoke about how the company's customers have embraced iPads in-store to such an extent that sales made via these devices now account for 20% of all online sales in the business.

Zuurbier explained that take-up of this method, which allows shoppers to order goods from the retailer's website in a M&S store, is actually funding further innovation investment, saying the sales generated by these devices are "giving us permission to keep going with other things".

Meyer, who before assuming his current job at M&S was one of the driving forces behind the retailer's new channels objective which included work on developing the company's mobile proposition, suggested "there are a whole series of benefits of bringing these devices in-store". He also highlighted how M&S staff are being encouraged internally to view M&S.com as the organisation's flagship store, directing them there as an 'endless-aisle' option if their product needs can't be fulfilled from store stock.

Some of the benefits of the digital in-store approach, as identified by Meyer, include its capacity to provide "some real tangible measures", in terms of gauging how many people are using the tools, what they look at during their customer journey and how they engage with the brand as a whole.

Other retailers to take part in panel discussions and presentations at yesterday's event included grocer Waitrose, furniture e-tailer Made.com, electricals retailer Dixons Carphone and travel company Thomas Cook.

Representatives from each of the organisations highlighted how the digital revolution is re-shaping the way they do business and how they serve customers in their stores.

Former Maplin eCommerce director Michel Koch suggested a key element to implementing in-store technology successfully centres on retailers empowering their staff to embrace and support it. He spoke about recent changes at Maplin that have resulted in employees providing online advice and creating video how-to guides, as part of a more service-led approach to retailing.

As M&S's Meyer told delegates, each retailer now needs to deal with customer journeys that were once seen as linear but are now "circular and messy", often involving mobile technology, online research and social interaction.

"You've got to work hard at every part of the journey," he said.

Every ticket purchased for yesterday's event helped support London's young adults with learning difficulties. One Connected Community supports Oak Lodge School and The Hearts of Oak Foundation, aiming to give every student the opportunity to benefit from technology-aided learning.

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