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The good, the bad and the ugly of digital retailing

The pros and cons of online shopping and the amazing reach of social media has been much in my mind this week.

On the cons side, the Musgrave household has been suffering from a major failure from the sainted John Lewis. A new washing machine was ordered and paid for on January 25, with the understanding that it would be delivered, fitted and the old one removed within seven working days, or by February 4. To give you the short story, after many phone calls to John Lewis’s customer service centre(s) and many apologies from the polite operators there, a machine finally arrived on February 13. But the cheery operatives who carried it in had not been briefed to fit it or remove its predecessor.

We were promised a call back on February 14 to rectify the situation - but four days later, having heard nothing, I called the John Lewis head office and things started to move briskly. Things had got so bad that I had to partially fit the thing myself last weekend to deal with the mountain of washing that we’d been unable to process at friends’ houses during the preceding three weeks. When I attempt any sort of DIY, you know it’s an emergency. So now John Lewis is sending someone out to check my handiwork. Well done them for rescuing a bad situation. Funnily enough, we used to have a super white goods dealer locally in our rural fastness who invariably fitted any purchase the same day or within 24 hours. He closed a while back due to online competition.

On a more upbeat note, the relaunched Marks & Spencer website caught my attention on Tuesday. It’s a classy production - even the headline typeface looks like Vogue’s. M&S digital editor Nicola Copping used to be deputy fashion editor at the Financial Times, where she had the dubious pleasure of commissioning me to write men’s style pieces. She diverted from print to online first at Harrods.com and at My-Wardrobe.com before settling at M&S last year. I expect her Editor’s Picks on the new site will become very well-followed.

On the critical side, I am intrigued that all the models look at least 35 years younger than most of the customers I see in the M&S stores. Why not show some stylish older women and men? The grouping of the merchandise is slightly odd too. In women’s dresses, the same style of a pleated neck tunic dress at £45 was shown three separate times, in three different colourways. Why not show the different colour options alongside each image?

An interesting - and for M&S possibly encouraging - comment came from my wife Jane, who fell out of love with its clothes some while ago. Declaring herself pleasantly surprised by the site, she said: “It removes you from the negative associations of shopping in M&S - the dowdy image, the poor displays, the huge quantity of stock you have to work through to find something you might like. There are some very interesting and surprising pieces that look all the better out of the context of the stores.”

Finally, to stay in the digital arena, our news team’s research this week into the swirling mists of speculation about the ownership and future of value fashion chain Internaçionale have been aided by the extraordinary number of comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media from disgruntled, worried and angry staff who have been made redundant. Management ought to be aware of the power social media gives to their employees.

Finally, the mood for spring/summer 15 was very good at Première Vision this week. For very keen souls, there were even trend seminars for spring 16. Life goes on.

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