Thursday, 14 August 2014

Marks but no Sparks

While browsing the business pages - as you do in July - I was staggered to read in the Guardian that Marks and Spencers had spent a whopping £150 million on their new website. How could this much be spent? What had it been spent on? How much of that money, time and energy had focussed on making the website fit for purpose?
It had clearly been a disaster for online sales which had dropped by 8% in only three months.  Had the store lost its old customers – but failed to gain new ones?  There were no clues in the business pages so looking back to the launch in February this year the Daily Mail had its say and so did its readers - Shoppers' fury as new M&S websitecrashes.

Website users told the Mail they -

·         had error messages
·         couldn’t find what they were looking for
·         couldn’t get  basic product information and most important
·         couldn’t  buy anything.
According to one M&S Executive this was just teething problems and it would soon be sorted out.  
Maybe by now - I thought – the site would be OK. I wanted to get replacement jeans as the others had simply worn out.
The thing about M&S is that their stuff is reasonably fashion neutral, so you don’t end up looking daft after a couple of months with the latest skinny bright - puce jeans you bought in that boutique because it seemed like a good idea at the time. 
The old  jeans had holes where it was not fashionable or chic so I looked at the label and the size and thought I would do my favourite Click and Collect. The good thing is that you can still go and try them on in a store I thought.
So I looked at the website on my laptop.
First problem – I had to scroll down to see the full screen. The first thing I noticed on the navigation was FREE DELIVERY TO AUSTRALIA, NZ, USA AND CANADA. Oh ….. so that’s new – can we get free delivery in the UK?
It took a while to find out that……er - Yes we can but only if you spend over £30. Ho hum. OK back to Click and Collect.
Now to find the jeans er…Womens… No…. got Offers.
Then I got BRANDS ….. um… Per Una, Apostrophe?? Dunno –never looked for brands in M&S. Maybe they asked all the buyers to say what they wanted on the website – not the customers. Result every department wanted to be represented.
Got distracted as I couldn’t find jeans and jeans and jeggings didn’t seem to have what I was after.
So….went for Style Adviser – now that is fun.

My M&S Style Adviser

You can dither and swap and  then it comes up with some “Must Haves”. You can get emails at the end. Can’t cope with the number I get now so….”No thanks”.  Maybe the revamp was worth it but what about my workaday jeans? I had been on the site for at least 20 minutes and enjoyed it but all I knew now was what my body shape is and that I liked some things and not others.
Retail Therapy
Several days later I had some free time in a country town on a Monday morning and had a look in Marks and Spencers.
Found my jeans, tried them on, job done.

Looking further into the website revamp

This is Money (February 2014) reports that it all started when M&S parted company with Amazon and wanted to go their own way. That might have been a good move in many ways particularly if it meant a close fit with the company’s other operations. As part of the revamp they took on 50 software developers in-house. I begin to understand where some of their money went.  Plus their delivery systems did not match the Click and Collect concept. It turns out that the old stock checking system could not say whether and item was already in store. Whether it was or not - the stock had to be delivered from a central warehouse.
Oh dear – the same old story – web site developed as a stand-alone – not tied in with other systems. Online department cool and whizzy but not connected with the rest of it.
Let’s see – I will still keep going into M&S stores because they are generally pleasant and have helpful staff. Plus I gather that I fit the profile of a typical M&S shopper – I also like their food section and will not be ordering that online any time soon. I like to browse the shelves!