It’s been announced in the news today that Marks & Spencer has experienced an 8.1% fall in sales on their website since a re-launch back in February.

Rumoured to have cost in the region of £150 million any drop in sales is clearly an embarrassment for M&S as well as the in-house team tasked with improving the company’s fortunes online.

So what went wrong?

Though I’ve never used the website myself reports suggest the website was dogged with issues at launch and really dropped the ball when it came to requiring all existing customers to re-register their accounts.

In such instances having an in-house team allowed Marks & Spencer to react quickly to the issues and implement fixes as needed, but with an in-house team also comes other problems…

Inflexible Launch

In an agency like Bronco we’re not so dependent on a particular client to pay the bills that we can push back a little when it comes to unrealistic timeframes and launch dates. With an in-house team often the dictatorial demands of a CEO can force the launch of a website in order to meet a specific timetable rather than one that ensures the website is ready for the real world.

We might never know if the team knew the website was launching in a less than perfect condition. In all honesty many agencies will find themselves bug fixing a website after launch, especially if the testing phase hasn’t dug deep enough.

However with £150 million to play with I’d expect a sizable testing team for the M&S website. Every scenario should have been considered as well as a number of usability tests performed to iron out all the problems reported at launch.

Was it the website?

The cost of such a website is too high for it to fail so spectacularly. But while there were clearly issues with the new website can this be the only reason for the downturn in sales. Little evidence has been provided that confirms the reduction of sales is specifically due to the launch of the new website.

Seasonal slumps, economic factors, search rankings and buyer confidence can all affect the sales on a website and could all have been contributing factors to the 8.1% drop.

Marks and Spencer as a brand has also seen a downturn over recent years. Its reputation of appealing to an older audience and being more expensive will surely carry over into the online side of its business.

Can they turn it around?

With a good team, possibly. Marks & Spencer is a well-known brand in the UK and this means that those people who have bought from Marks and Spencer will likely return to the brand unless they’ve had a really bad experience.

If Marks and Spencer are still dedicated to their website then the next port of call is to ramp up the usability testing to help identify issues and opportunities for improvement and then begin split testing any changes to ensure any change being made are having a positive effect on conversion rate.

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