David Walmsley, Director of Multichannel Development at Marks & Spencer, is obsessed. He and his team are fanatically fixated on the shopper – her developing wants, changing behaviors, and how these affect the M&S business. In his keynote at the Shop.org Summit, David described three truths retailers cannot obsess about enough.

1. Follow the consumer’s ever-changing behavior and desires.

Retailers can’t dictate how shoppers shop – they simply must change their selling process to match the shoppers’ wants. Because if they don’t, someone else will.

For this reason, David unequivocally called mobile commerce a must. There is no potential negative impact, he says, that outweighs the overwhelming momentum of consumer behavior shifting to the medium. M&S has chosen to simply push forward to try and lead in that space – to the point of encouraging showrooming. More on that later.

Another rising consumer behavior that makes many brands uncomfortable is shoppers’ demand for others’ opinions. If you’re afraid to let your consumers talk, they’re not the problem – you are. And they’ll find somewhere else to talk about the products you carry. David spoke to the value reviews bring to M&S’s online presences – and through mobile, to their stores as well.

An additional trend is the shift from live TV to pre-recorded and on-demand programing – which largely free the captive audience brands once had for advertising. David feels TV is not dead; merely, all channels have to be aligned and interact cohesively to be successful. When TV is used in concert with other channels, it’s still the most effective awareness driver, he says.

2. Digital is the fabric through which consumer experience is woven.

A true omnichannel experience “means weaving the experiences, not bolting on a channel,” David said. M&S focusses on creating a consistent experience across every channel. Unlike many retailers who dismiss the online environment as one in which they cannot replicate the personal, human in-store experience, M&S is using social and structuring their site to deliver the excellent service they provide in stores, online.

In the same way, M&S brings the digital experience into their stores. Brick and mortar locations offer free wifi to encourage showrooming – researching in stores before buying online via mobile or later at home – a consumer practice that has many retailers afraid. M&S promotes this behavior, urging clients to shop on their mobile app while feeling and trying on items in the store, and has seen increased purchasing behavior through this omnichannel approach. David describes spending as “exponentially higher” for every channel the shopper interacts with.

For this reason, M&S is now equipping store associates with tablets – a practice they call “sensibly placed technology.” Associates can help shoppers find additional sizes and colors, read customer feedback, and order online while in the store. The retailer is also experimenting with in-store kiosks, virtual displays, and a number of new technologies. David describes these tactics as turning their stores into a “destination.”

3. Being “right” is a temporary feeling.

As M&S embraces new technologies, they’ve adopted the mantra, “fail fast.” The retailer obsessively measures every new initiative to inform future decisions, and evaluate which technologies are working and which should be killed. There is no shortage of “the next great idea,” says David, so measuring and moving on are key.

To speed up failing fast, M&S organizes their ecommerce department in matrixes, rather than a traditional hierarchical structure. David feels this allows different teams to gain alignment and try new things much more quickly and easily than in a traditional organization.

As the most-loved retailers always have, tomorrow’s leaders will demonstrate this consumer obsession – even in the face of uncertain new technologies and behaviors.

3 Responses to “3 truths retail can’t obsess about enough, from Marks & Spencer”

  1. Shane Coker
    Shane Coker

    Thanks for the thoughts, Andrew. I didn’t hear anything about M&S heading across the pond from the presentation but am hopeful that many of the tactics they are deploying will make the trip. Sucharita Mulpuru gave an intro to the M&S presentation, citing examples in which UK retailers have led some of the thinking in the e-commerce space (i.e. penetration into the beverage and grocery market.) Perhaps these omni-channel ways will soon become the norm.

  2. I think a lot of US retailers are too busy failing slowly to realize the recent shifts in consumer behavior. Just last year I was reprimanded by a manager at a big-box store for using a barcode scanner to check prices and reviews for a laptop. I wish more stores would pay attention to the shopper like M&S does as I’m sure it helps to create a sense of value for the customer that they would have a hard time finding at another retailer. Any chance an M&S will pop up in the US any time soon? I’d shop there!

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