M&S’ annual results press conference was dominated by questions about the retailer’s upcoming online food trial.
“We’re carefully reviewing food online,” chief executive Steve Rowe said today, pointing out that he didn’t believe that not offering food ecommerce had cost M&S anything.
He explained that the trial was “to assess customers’ response to our offer” and that there were “many forms an online business could take”.
That purposely vague description attracted numerous questions but Rowe was keen to get off the subject. So keen in fact that if this were a gossip mag this article would be titled “The secret Steve Rowe doesn’t want you to know”.
He termed the project a “very, very, very, very small trial”, adding that there weren’t “enough verys” to get his point across. He made the same apparently spontaneous observation on an earlier media call.
A low-cost trial
Rowe was also keen not to give many more details away and maintained that it could end up taking “many forms”, though he did concede that initial trials would pick from stores.
“We have seen the rise of all sorts of meals-for-tonight businesses. And, of course, we specialise in meals for tonight”
Steve Rowe, M&S
“It is a little trial and what I don’t want to do is have everyone corrupt the trial because everyone goes and has a play with it. We will do it in our own way and we will talk to you about it later on in the year,” he told journalists.
He added: “We are testing the proposition in a low-cost manner. Depending on the outcome of those tests we will then decide which way we want to go in terms of pick, offer, speed of delivery, method of delivery. And we will do that after we assess the trial.”
Rowe said that while the online grocery market is dominated by low-frequency big baskets, there is a growing trend towards smaller, higher frequency baskets, which should serve M&S well.
“We have seen the rise of all sorts of meals-for-tonight businesses,” he conceded. “And, of course, we specialise in meals for tonight.”
That hint chimes with the trials that Retail Week understands that M&S has undertaken in the past, when it explored a Deliveroo-type offer in tandem with Amazon.
Who knows, this time next year you might be choosing between ordering a Chinese takeaway online or M&S’ ready meal equivalent.
And for the celiacs among us, there’s even M&S Made Without Wheat Sweet & Sour Chicken on offer. It seems Steve Rowe has thought of everything.