Marks & Spencer: how not to create an international web presence

M&S-1Marks & Spencer is one of the UK’s best loved brands. A pioneer in the creation of high quality take away, pre-prepared food, often praised for producing quality clothes under the Per Una brand, it remains a high street favourite. In an interim trading statement, issued last month, Marc Bolland, CEO said:

Our plan is to transform Marks & Spencer from a traditional UK retailer to an international multi-channel retailer. We are making good progress against this plan.

If only that was true.

The .com site provides buyers with great choice across all its lines. The site also boasts that the company delivers to 80 countries. It has created country specific sites for Austria, Belgium. Germany, France, Spain and the Republic of Ireland. In creating the country sites, M&S offers a limited range of goods, mostly clothing. In reality the only thing that distinguishes the country sites are the use of local language and the ability to pay in euros. However, if you want (say) furniture delivered to one of those countries you’re out of luck. In fact contrary to its claims, M&S delivers to far fewer than the claimed 80 countries.

The company provides contact telephone numbers. However if you are calling from (say) Spain, the 900 number is not accepted from mobile phones. Another case of the telco refusing because it cannot collect termination fees. There is a UK 0844 number which, surprisingly, can be reached from abroad on a mobile.

When you get through to the call center, the very pleasant operator kindly explains that the international sites are ‘under development’ and ‘geared towards local needs.’ However, she cannot give an estimated time when those sites will be populated to the same extent as the UK site because that work is under the control of personnel who are not connected to customer service.

Bottom line: if I live in Mongolia, I can get pretty much anything I want delivered. Live in one of the dedicated country sites? You get what’s on offer.

Millions of ex-pats live in the countries M&S has chosen to target. Many still prefer their home country brands. Companies like M&S do well to cater to that need. But when you cripple the experience, you lose potential sales and sour the goodwill upon which brands are built. The irony of the situation is that while shopping local might be a good thing in many respects, ex-pats often find that some high value goods are better imported. In this case, M&S makes it worse by inflating claims.

I wonder the extent to which M&S realises just how much it is failing potential customers?

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