One of the biggest industries to have seen sweeping business changes during the current pandemic has been consumer retail. World over, retail is now balancing two critical tasks: first, making sure essential products reach customers in lockdown; and second, offering a shopping and working environment that is safe and secure for both shoppers and colleagues.
For food, clothing and home (C&H) retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) the scenario was no different. What was different, though, were certain timely strategic decisions that M&S took with technology partner TCS to tide over the immediate crisis and chart out a plan for the long haul.
Open to Change, Open for Business
Ensuring the safety of its customers even as it met their demands was of topmost priority for the UK-based retailer as Europe found itself in the thick of the crisis. To this end, M&S decided to refocus; it redirected its resources from its C&H line to its foods business.
The marketplace was seeing an immediate change not only in terms of shopping habits, but also in government rules on safety and movement.
While its brick-and-mortar clothing outlets had to be immediately shut, there was a surge in the demand for food essentials. This required quick technological interventions to demand and fulfilment and supply chain systems, back-end distribution set-up, as well as warehouse management – all to ensure that the in-store visitor had an undisrupted shopping experience, especially given the other pandemic-driven upsets they were already having to deal with.
Food for Thought
In a move to ensure essential supplies reached its consumers, M&S expanded its online clothing platform to deliver food items as well. A technology team was put in place to build an implementation where customers could purchase an M&S Food Box. These were hampers that included a mix of food essentials designed to last a household for roughly a week. The hampers were made available online early in April 2020 in under a week. Putting together this solution too called for quick technological changes in distribution and supply processes that were otherwise designed to manage online sales only for the clothing line. The online food boxes have gained popularity since they were rolled out, with over a 100 of these being sold daily.
Additionally, given the demand for home delivery of food, the online business team developed another idea -- a ‘Chilled Ready Meal’ food service on the website. The implementation, which demanded that M&S stores integrate with new vendors and delivery services, was pulled off in just two weeks and has seen heavy demand since its launch, with a consequent jump in weekly revenues.
That the team came up with added features to the website despite time and infrastructural constraints is not surprising when one considers how initiatives such as the ‘TCS Buzz Idea Club’ have been kept alive even during lockdown. Virtual ideathons are a big part of this brainstorming exercise where internal teams exchange thoughts on how to keep adding value to M&S services. M&S Business head of Digital Products Phil Ward acknowledged that the Club had been a productive initiative. “Thank you for this … great ideas that strengthen our partnership and brand knowledge,” Ward said.
In trying to ensure that the pandemic didn’t derail the inside wheels of supply chain maintenance, vendor engagements, and business operations, M&S & TCS drew up further technology game plans. The first order of business was putting in place a solid work-from-home arrangement for all employees. Within a mere six days, close to 3,000 M&S employees in business operations functions found themselves working remotely from home, but within the M&S network. Moreover, TCS rolled out its own Secure Borderless Workspaces™ (SBWS™) program, a comprehensive ‘away’ module, to enable remote working for TCS teams assigned to M&S technology projects.
Recognizing the significance of the M&S-TCS partnership especially in the pandemic crisis, M&S CIO Carl Dawson said, “Everyone is playing their part and working together to support our colleagues, customers and communities. We are very proud and pleased that TCS are a part of our team. Thank you.”
TCS has been in a long partnership with M&S. It started in 2008 and has only evolved since towards building the architecture for transformative IT programs accelerated over the last few years. Among these include seeing the retailer become a 100% enterprise agile organization and working towards becoming a Digital First retailer.
A big part of this transformation exercise was put to the test during the pandemic. From ensuring that the consumer has a smooth shopping experience to quickly building a digital armor for employees in terms of network access and cyber security, to taking care of critical logistical issues such as the tagging and movement of physical devices from employee offices to their homes, the TCS and M&S IT teams had pulled off no ordinary feat. And all of this was done in under a week, using the transformative power of technology to stay ‘Open for Business’ at the time of a global shutdown.