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How Marks & Spencer took its iconic brand multichannel

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Marks & Spencer is a beloved brand in the U.K., but the retailer has had to move fast to keep up with its core customer and new technology while expanding its identity abroad. Multichannel Development Director David Walmsley spoke to Summit attendees about how the high street retailer has evolved to reach its target market both at home and overseas. The core customer for Marks & Spencer is an affluent woman aged 55 to 65 who is digitally connected. She books travel online, banks online, embraces social media, and she wants to shop her favorite iconic brand, M&S, in her neighborhood store, on her tablet, PC and smartphone. As a result, M&S has worked to develop its online and store strategies not just in tandem, but as an interconnected process.

Like FB screen.Marks & Spencer uses Facebook to really engage their customers. They often share recipes, like this one, which received over 5,000 likes and 150 comments.

Walmsley offered three tips for success, whether you're expanding abroad or developing your multichannel strategy:

  1. You cannot obsess enough about your customer. My favorite takeaway was Walmsley's suggestion that you get subscriptions to magazines that your core customers read to learn more about them.

  2. Being right is a very temporary feeling. Technology keeps evolving. So should your efforts.

  3. Digital is the fabric through which our customer experience will be woven. It's not just an add-on. It's a connector.

The multichannel team has transformed the website into a fashion-forward presence with a point of view and great customer service -- exactly what customers expect in the store. But it's not just a matter of recreating the same experiences in different channels. It's about making the channels work together. So if the core customer is looking for outfit inspiration, she can go to the website and browse, then go to the store and try on. Or she might shop in the store but use a digital display to explore products available online or in other stores. She can buy right there, she can order items, or she can email them to herself for later reference. Walmsley offered an insightful view of how M&S's core customers use social media. Twitter is great for customer service, he said, but Facebook is where the core customers really engage with the brand. Core customers love to chat about the latest M&S TV advertisements, discuss upcoming product releases and share recipes for M&S food items. Most importantly, the discussions all take place organically. The host has carte blanche to post whatever she thinks will resonate most with the core customer -- whether it's a quick photo of a sunset outside the retailer's headquarters or of a new fashion line. It's real, fast and authentic. Digital displays, mobile, social and free Wi-Fi are all pieces of the multichannel puzzle, but there are even more considerations when you're expanding globally. Hiring native speakers is crucial, M&S learned after launching its French e-commerce site and bricks-and-mortar store at the same time. Consider how customers in different countries pay online, and make sure you do your research (don't blindly trust what a supplier says, Walmsley warns). There is no one-size-fits-all in omnichannel, so be flexible.