No milk for sale

Just browsing – thankfully

By Michelle Perry | Published 15:20, 09 July 14

I have shopped online at Marks & Spencer’s lots of time over the years. Although I never thought it was a particularly brilliant website in terms of customer experience, I’ve seen much worse.

A website that is easy to use is critical to all businesses nowadays, but particularly for retailers. I have never returned to shop on those sites that have frustrated me so much that I have ‘virtually’ ditched my ‘shopping bag’ halfway through the experience.

So yesterday’s news that Marks & Spencer’s reported its 12th consecutive fall in non-food sales – this time mostly due to a revamp of its website – didn’t seem to add up to me. If you’ve just spent £150 million overhauling your website then surely it should be a better, not worse, customer experience.

CEO Marc Bolland put it down to shoppers having to re-register and getting used to the layout of the site, but should a “settling-in” period take so long that it affects a whole quarter’s worth of sales at a major global brand?

I hadn’t shopped online at M&S for a while – not necessarily because I’d had a bad experience, but mostly because I, like most Brits, have less money to spend. So I thought I’d go online today and have a scout around to see for myself. I mean, how bad could it be?

Since the Guardian had quoted M&S finance director Alan Stewart insisting that nothing “had gone wrong” with the website’s relaunch, — that it was a bit like “going to the supermarket for milk, they’ve moved it and you can’t find it immediately” — I decided to shop for ‘milk’.

The results? M&S “found 41 products for milk across 36 categories”. The first three items were: a Maxim Milk Jug, an Artisan Milk Bottle and Coconut Milk Cream Bath, 500ml.

Ok, so I didn’t define the search by category, but the site did automatically search by relevance (allegedly). And still, not one of the 41 products thrown up in the search was, err, milk.

On my second search the site fared much better. I searched for slippers. The search threw up 124 products across 37 categories. But apart from men, women and children, I can’t really think what the other 34 categories could be.

M&S boasted yesterday that one in five British men was watching the World Cup in M&S slippers. The retailer sold 1.3m pairs in 2013, it said.

I can believe this statistic despite it’s apparent lack of sex-appeal. I bought a pair of M&S slippers for my man in 2013 and he has been watching the World Cup. Although I can’t guarantee he was wearing his M&S slippers. It’s more flip-flops season, isn’t it?

I’ve met and interviewed lots of finance chiefs in my time – sadly, not yet Alan Stewart – and I’m pretty certain that given the hours they work they rarely – if ever – do the grocery shopping.

Like Ed Milliband’s recent pillorying for not knowning the exact amount his family spent on the weekly groceries, it’s always best to avoid analogies when you’ve no real life experience of them. Stick to the finances Mr Stewart.

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