As a Brit in New York, it always makes me proud to see British retailers feature at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show. The second day of the world’s biggest retail show closed with a keynote session with Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Executive Director, Marketing & International, Marks and Spencer, which cured a bit of my homesickness.
For those unfamiliar with the brand, Marks and Spencer (or M&S) is one of the UK’s favorite retailers, with a strong heritage and figuring in the public mind as the epitome of Britishness. At 132 years old, it has 1,332 stores worldwide in 59 markets, employing 82,000 people, working with over 2,000 suppliers, and serving 32 million customers. Well-known for its classic lingerie, hosiery, and delicious food, the company has been through numerous transformations, and is therefore no stranger to adapting with the times – as Bousquet-Chavanne says, “Being around in business over 132 years means you pass the reinvention test at least a couple of times over.”
The brand, as Bousquet-Chavanne told the full house, is in the midst of yet another reinvention, adapting to the demanding needs of the evolving customer. Today’s customer has higher expectations of brands and services, is empowered by technology, and interacts with brands in many different ways. She wants to be part of something bigger than herself, is fatigued by untargeted discounts and adverts, and views choice as the key to engagement. In fact, Bousquet-Chavanne was quite right when he said that “the customers are no longer kings; they are omnipotent Gods.”
This new empowered customer requires that brands adopt a new type of collaborative relationship, with relevant and meaningful rewards that address the total relationship, foster a strong sense of community, and create a “friction free” brand eco-system.
To this end, M&S has launched their new loyalty program, or as they call it—a members’ club ‘SPARKS’. It was exciting to see a program that rewarded its customers (or members) not only on how much they spend, but on how frequently they shop. SPARKS also has a corporate socially responsible angle; customers are rewarded for donating old clothes. The program provides tailor-made offers, using an algorithm and declared interests to provide highly-targeted offers on top of priority access events and experiences. What’s impressive here is the scale on which change is being implemented.
The exhibition halls of the NRF Big Show are crushed by the weight of modern platform solution offerings (all very important of course!). Amidst all that, it is refreshing to hear how this 19th century class-act continues to keep itself relevant.