Marks & Spencer is to sell Early Learning Centre products on its website in its latest tie-up with a complementary brand to build online appeal.

From today, Marks & Spencer will offer 200 lines from Early Learning Centre, the toy brand owned by The Entertainer, Retail Week can reveal.

The online tie-up is M&S’ second, following the introduction of sustainable fashion label Nobody’s Child a month ago, and is part of the retailer’s ‘Never the same again’ programme to accelerate transformation.

A key objective is to drive online growth, including through the introduction of relevant third-party brands that enhance the appeal of M&S, particularly in categories such as toys, which are not M&S specialisations.

The addition of external brands online has proved successful for rival Next and M&S’ newly launched MS2 division, which has a mandate to ‘think like a pureplay’, has been made responsible for building up a portfolio of curated brands.

The partnership with ELC is expected to bolster M&S’ kidswear proposition. Children’s clothing has performed well during the Covid pandemic – sales of a three-for-two bundle rose 316% online in the third quarter – and it is hoped a fuller offer will be successful over Christmas and into the future.

M& director Stephen Langford said: “We’ve begun to test and learn opening up M& to complementary brands to broaden our appeal and help turbocharge online growth. 

“With more customers shopping online this Christmas than ever before, we wanted to strengthen our offer with a selection of Early Learning Centre toys to sit alongside our popular kidswear and gifting ranges. 

“The Early Learning Centre team is experienced at operating as a guest brand and they offer great quality, great value toys.”

The Entertainer founder and executive chair Gary Grant said: “We are extremely proud of our Early Learning Centre brand. It has an amazing heritage, supporting children’s learning and development through play for nearly 50 years.

“ELC is trusted by parents and grandparents alike, many of whom remember the brand being part of their own childhoods. Our partnership with M&S will enable us to make the ELC brand even more accessible to our customers online.”

The Entertainer acquired Early Learning Centre from Mothercare last year.