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Marks & Spencer's online woes should have been foreseen

Marks & Spencer spent more than three years developing its website – so why didn’t it anticipate the problems of switching onto a new platform, instead of predicting growth for this year?

M&S’ reasoning for developing the new site was sound – take back control it had ceded to Amazon and “own our car, not rent it”, as executive director for multichannel Laura Wade-Gery said at the time.

But whatever the limitations of the previous set-up, there is no argument that Amazon knows what it is doing.  M&S.com was seeing consistent growth until the platform was changed-it has been in consistent decline since.

Complaints since the website launched in February range from being painfully slow or even crashing (because the imagery is too much for most phones and some computers to cope with) to deliveries being sent to the wrong place (see this comment from today’s story).  Others complained that they were locked out, with the result that they abandoned their basket (see this comment from February).

Although the website looked great, arguably too much time was spent on editorial than on driving sales – an issue our acting deputy editor Keely Stocker referred to in her review back in February when she noted that users could be “too distracted by content and spend more time on this than they do spending money on the site”.

Bolland is a master of spin, and now that he is emphasising the impact “settling in” is having on sales, it’s easy to forget that at the start of the year he was incredibly bullish about online prospects for 2014.

During the 13 weeks to December 28, online GM sales rose 32% on the old platform, pushing M&S into third place behind Next and Shop Direct as the UK’s biggest etailer.  At the time he confidently suggested M&S would overtake Shop Direct.

“With the new platform and distribution centre I think we will be more competitive and perhaps in the next 12 months we could breeze through,” he said.

At the half way point this is looking less likely. It may well be that things pick up in time for Christmas – and shareholders will be all ears at today’s AGM to see what changes are being planned to ensure that. More than likely, however, it will be another opportunity for Bolland to repeat the “step by step” refrain that we have become so used to hearing over the last 12 quarters of decline.

Readers' comments (2)

  • M&S needs closing for a whole year and starting again. It needs an enforcer to get things moving as it's structure is wrong on so many levels. It's badly managed (comparatively speaking) with an archaic way of retailing with dated, cluttered stores and an ageing customer base. All these means M&S is heading one way and that is not up.

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  • M&S need an over haul on there leadership teams

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