M&S recruits new head of food online from Tesco

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has appointed a new head of food online and is continuing to build a team to develop its existing grocery eCommerce proposition.

Samantha Hornsby arrived at the start of January from Tesco, where she was most recently head of online range & development. She takes on the role vacated by Tim Lee, who left M&S last October to become CEO of online recipe box service, Mindful Chef.

Hornsby will assume the role that Lee held for four years, overseeing the running of its existing online grocery offering and what so far have been small-scale trials in that space, including servicing digital orders from shops and in-store collection.

“A few years ago, we announced that food online was an area we needed to look at and address, and we said we would be doing some small-scale trials in that space,” an M&S spokesperson told Essential Retail.

“We have had a really longstanding online food delivery service in terms of wine, Christmas-food-to-order and party food, etc, which our head of food online looks after. The role oversees what we already do online and any trialling we do in that space.”

Hornsby’s nine years at Tesco involved time as head of online services & partner experience, and head of online strategy & propositions. Hornsby was also responsible for the platform development and change programmes across Tesco’s F&F online clothing business.

M&S is now also on the hunt for additional talent to build out the team, with a web merchandiser for the food website one of the immediate recruitment priorities.

Developments to kick-start the online food service at M&S come after CEO Steve Rowe last year committed to evolving the business into a “digital-first retailer”. A host of internal initiatives, strategic tech supplier partnerships, and start-up scheme collaborations were launched to aid that process.

M&S announced that sales over the crucial Christmas trading period were down year-on-year, but its online business is on the up. For the 13 weeks to 29 December 2019, same-store sales were down 2.4% in clothing and home, and 2.1% in food, resulting in an overall decrease of 2.2%. Total UK sales were down 2.7%, as the company continued to close several stores, but online trading grew 14% and now equates to just over one-fifth of revenue.

Kate Ormrod, lead analyst at business intelligence firm GlobalData, said M&S’s food sales have been hit by price investment as the company battles for share in a crowded market and against the discounters which continue to grow. However, M&S did say there was improvement in sales over the Christmas weeks.

“All eyes will be on newly appointed non-executive director Justin King to support the rebuilding of M&S’s food proposition,” Ormrod explained. “M&S has lost its edge when it comes to food innovation, something which previously set it apart from rivals. With product remaining key in the premium market, greater investment in exciting and delighting food shoppers is essential to drive basket sizes.”

The Mail on Sunday reported over the weekend that secret talks have taken place between M&S and Ocado regarding a potential strategic partnership. The article claimed M&S could acquire delivery vans, fulfilment centres and lorries from the online-only grocer to fast-track its online food operation.

Neither M&S or Ocado has confirmed or denied the report.