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Product Testing Lifts Full-Price Sales at Marks & Spencer

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Marks & Spencer is listening to its customers.

Five years after enlisting First Insight to assist in determining design, buying and pricing for lingerie products, Marks & Spencer (M&S) has scaled up the company’s “Voice of the Customer” product testing.

The U.K.-based retailer has since expanded the consumer-driven predictive analytics software platform to more than 50 departments in apparel and footwear, covering both its own private label brands and third-party brands, according to Elaine Wheeler, head of digital product development at Marks & Spencer.

In a recent fireside chat with Edward Hertzman, president and founder of Sourcing Journal, Wheeler noted that testing has been fruitful for M&S.

First Insight emails retailers’ consumers—often loyalty members or even employees—gamified digital surveys to collect feedback. The game enables shoppers to pick the price they believe the market is willing to pay for a product, or choose between which of multiple product designs they like better. Additionally, they can click to rate their sentiments about the item and give additional comments in a text box. Consumers typically evaluate anywhere from five to 10 or more items in a given survey.

At M&S, products that incorporate First Insight’s consumer feedback sell through at full price at a 12 percent higher rate than those that go untested.

Most recently, M&S has expanded its use of First Insight to home products.

“Some of the tests we’ve been doing recently are designed to understand what styles resonate with our customers,” Wheeler said. “Do they like classic styles or glamorous styles? Casual or modern? We also want to understand what resonates with renters, first-time buyers, growing families and empty nesters.”

Another such way to test products, Wheeler said, is by evaluating their style names. For example, M&S can ask consumers what words best describe a certain T-shirt sold online to most accurately determine its fit description.

During the chat, Greg Petro, CEO and founder of First Insight, said that product testing at M&S increased 35 percent in 2020, highlighting that January and February 2021 saw another nearly 30 percent year-over-year jump. Petro noted that retailers making decisions based on “listening, understanding and responding” with the platform are seeing similar results.

“Our existing customer base has increased testing over 22 percent year over year,” Petro said. “Average test completion rates have increased, meaning the consumers that are engaged are completing at a higher rate for longer periods of time—over five minutes. This is not a trivial metric to consider.”

While its customers have benefited, First Insight itself has evolved in the past year, debuting its Next-Gen XM Platform and entering into more fields such as consumer products, financial services, automotive, travel and leisure.

Next-Gen XM is an expansion of First Insight’s product testing background, and is intended to bring target customers into the brand-building process from the start, instead of after the product or campaign has already been launched. With predictive analytics in tow, brands can better anticipate profitable outcomes, increase gross margins and revenues, boost speed-to-market by months and realize ROI quickly and measurably.

“The companies that we’re speaking with are moving in the direction of lean inventories, speed and cycle time reductions without a doubt and they understand that,” said Petro. “In addition to that, the consumer is changing so dramatically that it’s a requisite. These dynamic forces are not going to go away.”

Click the video to learn more about how M&S is working with First Insight to enable product testing powered by consumer feedback, and how the retailer is using 3D visualization to improve cost efficiency and speed to market.

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