Why M&S Will Never Be the Same Again

Few brands are as entrenched in the UK’s culture as Marks & Spencer. Founded in 1884, the company has seen every rise, fall, shift and disruption in retail’s modern era and kept a loyal customer-base throughout its history.

But recent years have raised new challenges for M&S with more shoppers choosing to make their purchases online. For a brand that’s built its reputation around quality products and exceptional in-store customer service, the shift to online presented a challenge: how could it deliver the same level of experience digitally as it does in-store?

Then COVID-19 hit, and M&S had to accelerate its transformation plans to stay connected and continue serving its customers. According to Alex Williams, Head of Growth and Personalisation at M&S, the pandemic brought challenges for every retailer, but it also put the wind in their sails to evolve, and M&S is united as a business in achieving this aim.

Reimagining the digital customer experience

In the spring of 2020, M&S launched “Never the Same Again,” an ambitious plan which draws on lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of accelerating a company-wide transformation and driving M&S forward as a digital-first retailer.

One of the plan’s core pillars is a commitment to turbocharging growth on M&S.com. Underlying its digital strategy is a push to personalise M&S’s digital shopping experience for M&S customers across two of its largest online categories, clothing and home, with the help of Adobe Analytics and Adobe Target.

Since then, Williams and his team have been building M&S’s entire digital experience around insight into customers’ shopping habits, leveraging this data to serve up relevant product recommendations. For instance, a customer browsing M&S’s cashmere jumpers will be presented with a collection of tops that may also be of interest. The recommendation engine then goes further by displaying accessories and outerwear that can be styled with the selected cashmere jumper to complete the look. “Why not try” items, based on the customer’s previously browsed or purchased products, also provide further inspiration and opportunity to boost basket value.

M&S’s goal is to personalise each of the billions of interactions it has with customers each year across every channel they use, including M&S’s website, mobile app, email, and social media. For Williams, the power of digital is the ability to see every single interaction, even down to the impressions level, and use that to fuel M&S’s data science through Adobe Target, as well as through the company’s internal teams.

Just months after kicking off its transformation programme, M&S saw online sales for clothing and home goods jump almost 50%. That could not fully make up for the drop in footfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it marked a turning point for the company in the middle of a challenging time for all retailers.

Active users of the M&S app also doubled. As impressively for Williams, the digital relaunch of its SPARKS loyalty programme attracted 3 million new subscribers, each of which has a customer lifetime value that’s roughly four times that of a non-SPARKS member.

Experiment, evolve and personalise

Since the spring of 2020, M&S’s experimentation-friendly culture has been pivotal in strengthening its digital performance. Experimentation, testing, and learnings have become strategic elements of the retailer’s personalisation roadmap, with teams across the business encouraged to challenge old ways of working and bounce new ideas off one another.

Drawing on the testing capabilities of Adobe Target, M&S has run 75% more experiments on its digital properties this year compared with last year. Crucially, the ability to experiment quickly has accelerated the enhancements to M&S’s digital offering, putting the company in a great position to continue optimising and refining its approach.

This culture of experimentation also paid dividends for the retailer’s relationships and sales. By making the switch from generic messages to personalised recommendations on one its website carousels, M&S saw click-through rates increase by more than 80% and add-to-bag-rates increase by 56%. As Catherine Mullen, a Product Manager accountable for driving growth through recommendations explains, just one simple change, fuelled by Adobe Target, revealed the transformative power of personalised customer experiences.

Just as importantly for the retailer’s boardroom, the percentage of revenue attributed to that carousel jumped 318%. Even these bread-and-butter improvements to M&S’s personalisation approach delivered strong results quickly, in this case doubling the performance of a carousel after some simple testing and adjustment.

Not just personalised, but personal

This is a reset moment for M&S in every sense. The company’s heritage and brand reputation are indisputable, and now it’s on track to build on these differentiators with an equally unique and personal digital offering ready for the new era in experience.

M&S began its transformation journey with some ambitious goals and the progress it has made in recent months has put digital transformation front of mind for everyone in the organisation. Nearly one year after launching “Never the Same Again,” every team in the business is galvanized under a common goal – to establish M&S as the most personal retailer out there, no matter where or how its customers shop.