Marks & Spencer boss Steve Rowe has admitted the retailer has “been behind” on its digital transformation but insisted it is changing “rapidly”.
The high street bellwether wants a third of its business to be online within the next five years, and Rowe said it has had to be “brutally honest” with itself in order to transform.
In a candid interview on the Flagship stage at Retail Week Live, Rowe pinpointed three key pillars to its digital-first plan.
“The world of mobile is here,” he said. “When you think digital first, you always need to think mobile first.
“Secondly, it’s about how you work – work faster, work smarter, fail fast. That’s something we have to learn to do better.
“We have seeds of digital warriors, making sure we are building new applications and new technologies both for online and also for our store base”
“The third thing is to make sure we are on top of digital transformation in technologies. That’s something we are on top of now.
“We have seeds of digital warriors, if you like, making sure we are building new applications and new technologies both for online and also for our store base.”
Rowe admitted its heritage on the high street and long-serving workforce was “a double-edged sword” in its efforts to change.
“When I took over, I didn’t want to assume the status quo,” he said.
“It was really important that we started with a blank piece of paper. I immediately asked myself and the executive team some questions and analysed the business with a blank piece of paper.”
One of the key questions Rowe said he asked himself and the executive team was: “What does the shape of our UK store estate look like in a multichannel world?”
He has already unveiled plans to shutter around 100 of its 330 full-line stores, but insisted its bricks-and-mortar presence remains crucial to its multichannel future – 72% of all online orders placed through M&S are picked up in-store.
“No one is going to deny that shopping patterns have changed. Just to hold market share, a third of our business will be online in five years,” Rowe said.
“We’ve got 330-odd mainline stores in the UK and we will close around 100 of those in the next two to three years. Why? Because we have to.”
“No one is going to deny that shopping patterns have changed. Just to hold market share, a third of our business will be online in five years”
But Rowe insisted the store was “fundamental” to a digital-first M&S, adding: “The store is a touchpoint for the customer.
“We are increasing collection points and we are increasing touchpoints. They are vital to each other.
“I haven’t met many people who say that, in the next 10 years, dot-com will be more than 40% of the UK clothing market. That means 60% of profit is sitting on the high street. You want to play in both areas if you want to have scale.”
“This any time, any place, anywhere conversation with our customers is really important for the future.”