Coming out of the pandemic, Marks & Spencer plans to reinvigorate its e-commerce capabilities through global expansion and new partnerships as it aims to better compete with younger brands in the U.K. apparel space like Boohoo, Asos and Next.
As part of the company’s aptly named “Never the Same Again” transformation program, the department store is launching 46 flagship websites in new markets, expanding its online reach to more than 100 countries worldwide.
The international website expansion is the next stage in M&S’ commitment to drive global growth through online channels at under its recently established online, digital and data division, MS2. The move runs contrary to that of U.K.-based rival John Lewis, which said it was no longer pursuing international expansion and had ceased its online delivery service.
In the U.K., M&S is experiencing a bit of an online apparel overhaul already as the company awaits the reopening of its stores, which have remained on lockdown. In February, the retailer launched an exclusive 20-piece spring/summer collection from Finery London featuring a range of dresses, skirts, shirts and pants.
The department store is expected to launch exclusive collections from Joules, Phase Eight, Hobbs, Seasalt, Ghost and Jaeger online this month. M&S acquired the Jaeger IP for an estimated 5 million pounds ($6.8 million) in January to complement the Never the Same Again agenda.
As Marks & Spencer waits until April to reopen its U.K. stores, the retailer is trying to build on a 75 percent increase in international e-commerce sales in the first-half, which underlined the recent shift in customer spend throughout the pandemic.
The global e-commerce increase was a rare bright spot for the retailer, which saw total revenue fall nearly 41 percent in the first half, sending the chain to its first reported loss as a public company.
Nevertheless, M&S highlighted that products like the Sienna Straight Leg Jean are topping the bestseller list across multiple international markets.
New websites will launch in markets including: Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belarus, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Fiji, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Iceland, Jamaica, Jordan, South Korea, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Moldova, Mongolia, Myanmar, Macedonia, Nepal, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.
The launch of the international websites, which offer customers in these markets a broad range of M&S’ clothing and home products, gives the department store immediate and cost-effective access to these regions.
The retailer says the expansion was achieved using a low-cost approach, combining an “adaptable” website platform specifically designed for its international business and customers, with orders fulfilled through M&S’ established distribution network. This means that ongoing costs mirror customer demand, and by having an adaptable platform, M&S can further increase the localization of its offer quickly and efficiently.
M&S’ international online channels are now also available in 10 additional languages and a wider range of currencies.
The expansion, which nearly doubles M&S’ online footprint, comes as the retailer says M&S.com has seen “strong underlying demand” from these territories.
“Our international business has seen strong online growth since the start of the pandemic as increasing numbers of customers choose to shop through our range of flagship websites,” said Paul Friston, international director at Marks & Spencer. “Under our ‘Never the Same Again’ program, we’re focused on turbocharging our online business both in the U.K. and internationally, and as part of this we see a real opportunity in extending the number of countries where we run an online channel further.”
Alongside the international launch, M&S is shuttering its traditional banking operation to focus more on its payments services. The retailer said that M&S Bank will close its current accounts as the bank transitions to online and telephone service.
The U.K. retailer said it will close 29 in-store bank branches starting this summer, and expand its credit card and payment offerings. It said in-store travel money bureaus, which are located in more than 100 stores, are unaffected. The company said M&S Bank, which was formed in a joint venture with HSBC, will also launch a digital credit option later in 2021.
“We’re now firmly focused on supporting both our customers and colleagues through this change, and the delivery of our transformation plans, which will create new and rewarding payment solutions for M&S shoppers, both in-store and online,” CEO Paul Spencer said in a statement.