Written by Katy Campbell • Published 25th September 2012

Britain’s first ‘high-tech’ flagship store has opened, and it’s a Marks and Spencer in Cheshire. Not your conventional image of a high tech brand, this M&S is the size of 11 Olympic swimming pools, their second biggest store in the country. The new store tries to integrate both the online and offline worlds, but is this just a marketing promotion, or a real way of making shopping easier for consumers?

Touchscreens that allow shoppers to browse and then order, display TVs with constant adverts and shop assistants with I-Pads. Only 10 years ago this would have been viewed as a futuristic marvel, but now M&S believe it is necessary to optimise its sales. In the internet age, people are demanding shorter time lags between desire of a product and receiving it. Not only that, but so-called ‘multi-channel’ shopping is growing, clearly the more channels available, the more consumers are targeted and the more we will all spend. Despite warnings that numbers of department stores will stagnate as people move to using the internet, M&S believe that this could be the solution. The estimated catchment for the store is 1.3 million, and it is clear that this is not just an experience, it’s an M&S experience.

But not only is this high-tech store complete with electricity wasting technology, it prides itself on being M&S’s ‘greenest’ store to date. Its curved wooden roof is made of glued laminate; its building materials are supposedly 30-50% more carbon efficient. Natural light and carbon-absorbing hemp panels allow this and insulation is improved as the building is sunk into the ground. But is this six-year build really outweighing the cost and waste of the somewhat extravagant technology that’s inside it? M&S have obviously answered this question already – there is indeed an energy consumption monitoring system installed, along with a biomass boiler and electric car charging points. And this is even qualified by the BREEAM Excellent environmental rating it has received.

 

Not only investing in physical space, M&S has decided to update its website, to make sure it wins from all angles. In-store wi-fi in Cheshire will allow the physical and virtual shopping worlds to be connected. The marketing team are clearly trying to update the old-fashioned image that the young often attach to the store.

But what about the large proportion of M&S’s elderly customers that will be unable to use such technology? Surely the shopping process will be slowed down for them if they choose to experiment with the new touch screens? Will such high-tech equipment turn the most loyal customers away? Last year M&S’s womenswear sales dropped. It looks like M&S must weigh up the pros and cons in terms of cost and customers before rolling this concept out across all of their stores.