The most important aspect of the recent appointment of Laura Wade-Gery as the director for multi-channel e-commerce at Marks & Spencer is her seat on the main board.
This signals the retailer is serious about multi-channel and will specifically see Wade-Gery work on the development of M&S’ online food shopping and its international e-commerce operations. For such siginifcant developments there is a need to have representation on the board.
They touch all parts of retailers’ businesses so without a high level presence it would be impossible to get the necessary ‘head space and commitment’ from the likes of the director of stores to implement these major changes.
Such is the recognition within M&S of the potetial for online and multi-channel sales that it is being given just such a priority – with Wade-Gery the fulfiller designate of chief executive Marc Bolland’s grand digital plans.
It is questionable whether other major retailers have been quite as bold as M&S with few giving their multi-channel and online executives seats at the boardroom table.
The appointment highlights the changes taking place in the group, which has to some extent been playing catch-up with the likes of John Lewis and the supermarkets – with their online food offers – for many years.
M&S’ decision all those years back to use the Amazon.com platform for its online infrastructure now looks fatally flawed. But it is only now, with the group realising that multi-channel can be such a big part of group revenues, that it has probably become more of a pain.
And this pain can only grow because M&S is arguably in a potentially sweet spot with online sales. Its mature customer base is increasingly adopting technology but they have yet to fulfil their potential, which provides a great opportunity for the company to enjoy greater growth than some of its rivals.
Already it is seeing a difference in the behaviour of its customers with technology. At a store in Chelmsford it is trialling touch screen kiosks, with a re-formatted version of its web store, that enables in-store ordering.
On these devices it has found older customers are initially swiping at the screens in the style of iPad and iPhone usage, which suggests they are getting to grips with new technologies and as a result increasingly want the same shopping choices as the younger generation.
Even though the Amazon contract runs until 2012, be in no doubt that M&S is right now working hard on its version 2.0 platforms and infrastructure that will enable Bolland, Wade-Gery and the rest of the team to significantly up M&S’ multi-channel game.