M&S announces AI partnership with Microsoft

UK retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has signed an agreement with global technology company Microsoft that will involve testing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in various operations.

Microsoft AI engineers will partner with the M&S technology and retail labs teams, in what the retailer has described as an important step in its evolution towards becoming a digital-first organisation.

The deal, which has largely been worked on out of Microsoft’s US office for the past few months, involves testing the integration of AI technologies into M&S’s customer experience, stores and wider operations.

This week’s statement from M&S builds on the technology strategy it announced earlier this year, when it revealed plans for a new “Technology Operating Model” that involved around 250 existing IT roles at the retailer outsourced to Tata Consultancy Services.

M&S is maintaining “a smaller, more technical and commercially focused team”, with annual efficiencies of approximately £30 million expected by 2021-22, following a one-off cost of £25 million to implement the new initiative.

Steve Rowe, M&S CEO, remarked: “M&S is transforming into a digital first retailer, at a time when the sector is undergoing a customer-led revolution. 

“We want to be at the forefront of driving value into the customer experience using the power of technology. Working together with Microsoft to understand the full potential of how technology and AI can improve the in-store experience for our customers and the efficiencies of our wider operations could be a game changer for M&S – and for retail.”

Cindy Rose, CEO of Microsoft UK, added: “The retail sector is one of the most challenging landscapes in the UK right now and we are thrilled to be working with M&S to explore how AI can help such an iconic brand transform the customer experience and improve wider operations.”