M&S’s shift towards e-commerce opens up potential for marketing growth

Smart brands recognise that ecommerce is crucial for long-term growth and attracting new customers.

Vihan Sharma, LiveRamp Europe

Managing Director


The news that Marks & Spencer will be hiring 85 tech specialists to bolster its online platform comes as little surprise as we emerge from a third lockdown in the UK. While retailers opening their doors again has been hugely welcome, this positive investment into digital from M&S clearly signals that shopping habits have changed for good in the past year.

But it’s not just consumers who have discovered a love for e-commerce. Throughout lockdown brands have also discovered the potential that e-commerce holds not only for their survival through the challenges of COVID, but also for returning growth to their businesses. Our own recent research reveals that 38% of retail, hospitality and leisure leaders digitally transformed and grew their businesses through e-commerce during COVID-19.  

On the surface, the potential of e-commerce for growth and attracting new customers is clear.  But retailers are increasingly finding that there is much more that they can do to grow their business through digital sales than they had anticipated. In our own research 53% of retail and hospitality leaders said that online sales enabled them to gather data about their customers for business insight or marketing purposes. This shows that e-commerce is opening the possibilities of data to retailers, to identify their ideal customers and market to them more effectively and directly.

Throughout lockdown brands have also discovered the potential that e-commerce holds not only for their survival through the challenges of COVID, but also for returning growth to their businesses.

Vihan Sharma, Managing Director, Europe, LiveRamp

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce more quickly than ever before. High street brands are adopting new ways of approaching commerce and creating an omnichannel experience, with much more emphasis on online sales. For many companies, the recent challenges have been a catalyst for innovation.

Research from our report Moving Forward Through Digital shows that over half (56%) of retail and hospitality leaders believe the data they gather from e-commerce would give them the opportunity to compete more effectively with the UK’s online giants like Amazon and Asos. This could be through harnessing data to improve products, to improve their sales funnel or increased investment in marketing.  

But they have also recognized the need for balance between the physical and the online. None of us wants the UK High Street to go away.  Bricks-and-mortar shops have a secret weapon in their physical presence which e-commerce will never fully replace.  The experience of being in a shop, trying on clothes or touching products cannot be emulated online, and these experiences also open up a whole new realm of customer data and insight for retailers.  Growth for High Street retailers will be maximised when they make full use of this data and insight about their customers.

Physical retailers have an opportunity to connect the data that they gather in the real world with the data they gather through their e-commerce platform. One way to do this is for brands to invest in a secure platform to connect this online and offline data, developing insights from those in-person interactions that online retailers can’t gather, and using this to their advantage in their marketing strategies. 

Retailers can go even further with data though, and consider collaboration with other brands or strategic partners. For example, a clothing designer that is stocked in a department store, but doesn’t have its own physical retail space, can partner with the department store to connect their data using a secure, neutral third-party environment. This enables the designer to gain a better understanding of their customer base and measure the tangible success of their digital campaigns.  

As we emerge from lockdown, the true extent of the economic effects of the past year are not yet clear, but the road ahead is going to be challenging.  While there might be an immediate boost for retailers following their re-opening, this is unlikely to be sustainable in the long-term and brands will need to continue to innovate in order to grow

Now is the time for retailers to realise the value of their in-store and first-party data, and invest in putting it to use to inform marketing decisions that will help grow their businesses.

While investing in e-commerce is undoubtedly the right move now for Marks & Spencer, there is still great value to be gained from maintaining a physical experience for customers and developing insights into their behaviour.

Guest Author

Vihan Sharma, LiveRamp Europe

Managing Director,


Vihan has responsibility for driving product initiatives and helping clients leverage our solutions to drive growth for their companies. Since 2009 (when he joined Acxiom) Vihan has had multiple positions within LiveRamp: Data Content Manager, Director Data Content & Acquisition Europe and then Director of Product Management Europe to finally reach the position of MD Europe. Prior to joining Acxiom, Vihan held several strategic leadership positions across a number of start-ups in Europe.

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