Last month Marks and Spencer launched M&S Live, a live streaming service where shoppers can watch experts showcase the retailer’s latest ranges and ask them questions during a live weekly broadcast.
Each episode is completely shoppable so customers can buy the products as they watch. The retailer said the move was “the latest example of M&S embracing new opportunities in retail to be more relevant, more often for customers”.
Live Shopping is already huge in China, accounting for 17% of all online sales – this level is expected to be replicated on a global level by 2026, according to McKinsey.
“Live shopping puts our experts front and centre and gives them the ideal platform to share the M&S point of difference”
Western brands such as Gucci and Ted Baker have already dabbled with the format and M&S believes it will open “a new channel of communication with the customer – giving…the opportunity to drive brand awareness and style perceptions, and gather valuable customer feedback”.
M&S.com director Stephen Langford says: “It’s a global trend that responds to how customers are using social media – we all know how much more we’re scrolling and engaging with video content – at home, or on the go.
“Live shopping puts our experts front and centre and gives them the ideal platform to share the M&S point of difference – in terms of both quality, design and innovation features.”
Attracting a younger shopper
The move is part of M&S’ wider turnaround plan to both sell more clothes online and attract younger shoppers. It’s a strategy that is paying off with M&S’ clothing and home sales finally in growth after a decade of false starts.
The retailer has brought in younger, trendier brands like Nobody’s Child – which it has also taken a stake in – and Ghost, and is embracing social media such as Instagram as it looks to attract trendier mums and even their adult daughters.
This focus is clear to see in its live stream venture, which adopts a TikTok-style format.
But is this Tik Tok style marketing what M&S should be doing?
Consumer champion Helen Dewdney, who runs The Complaining Cow blog, says notm
“It needs to stop chasing the latest idea,” she tells Retail Gazette. “M&S is not associated with the younger demographic so it will be an uphill challenging task to reach a whole new audience and change perceptions. It needs to listen to existing customers and the customers it has lost.”
However, Wizz Selvey, retail expert and founder and CEO of the retail strategy consultancy Wizz & Co, which works with retailers including Next and Ocado, says that adopting Live Shopping is a smart move for Marks & Spencer.
“As more customers have ‘digital fatigue’ from an overwhelming amount of online information, creating the opportunity for expert advice that’s tailored to the customer, rather than for the masses, gives more opportunity for customers to find what they’re looking for,” she explains.
“The live shopping service will improve sales conversion and average transaction value, it could also mean a lower returns rate, a challenge for many fashion retailers is having a large amount of their stock out of the supply chain.”
Selvey also points out that this initiative brings the expertise and advice shoppers get in stores to the online world.
“When customers go into a physical store, often those shoppers are looking for expertise and advice, so if retailers can start to bring experts into their own homes, it will help improve the shopping experience and loyalty to the retailer,” she says.
M&S Live teething problems
When Retail Gazette tunes into the retailer’s Valentine’s-themed live stream, gueat hosts Mother Shoppers – stylists for TV’s Loose Women – are sharing their perfect gift ideas for a romantic evening in.
One can’t help but compare a live stream to a TV show, and the M&S show needs some fine-tuning if it is to attract viewers.
Segways from one product discussion to the next were a bit too contrived and felt far from organic. To be frank, at times it was a little awkward to watch.
Another thing that was lacking was a sense of fun, which is what is sorely needed if the format is to engage not just young shoppers, but all shoppers.
If this were a TV programme, we doubt many viewers would make it to the end as the format was dry and linear.
Given the comparisons to Tik Tok, a social network that is famous for silly dances and viral trends, it felt like M&S missed the mark somehow.
Meanwhile, very few shoppers appeared to tune in. Of course, the format is brand new so M&S shoppers may not be aware of its existence.
Throughout the entire live stream there was an average of 20 viewers and we only spotted a few questions from actual customers on the live chat function.
The retailer clearly needs to do some promotion around M&S Live to boost numbers, although it must be noted that the broadcast recordings are available for shoppers to watch after the event.
Although there is room for improvement, there were elements of the live stream that clearly worked. The technology was slick and made the stream easily shoppable.
“The retailer clearly needs to do some promotion around M&S Live to boost numbers”
When each product was being discussed, a pop-up at the bottom of the screen appeared with the item’s price along with an easy click-through link to purchase.
Overall, if the retailer can find a way to make the live stream both more engaging and can promote it to a wider audience, then there is potential for the format.
M&S could gain early competitive advantage in the world of live shopping, which could put it in good stead if the new shopping channel becomes as big as trend watchers predict.