M&S is set to roll out free wi-fi in its stores

M&S is set to roll out free wi-fi in its stores

Retailer Marks & Spencer plans to roll out in-store wi-fi and equip some staff with iPads as part of efforts to boost sales and improve the customer experience. 

The moves were announced as the company opened its second-largest UK store in Cheshire Oaks today (29 August). The 151,000 square foot eco-flagship will also offer 12 'Browse and Order' screens.

The retailer hopes the moves will encourage customers to browse its full range while in store - and is using the internet to "reinvent store shopping," according to multi-channel and e-commerce director Laura Wade-Gery.

As part of its efforts, she said the company is investing GBP100m (US$158m) on new in-store technology, and GBP150m on a new online platform. The investments are part of the company's goal of reaching GBP800m-1bn in online sales by 2015.

"Our scale and ambition is huge and we are putting real money behind this," the former Tesco e-commerce boss said. "M&S is putting more money behind this than I had at Tesco."

Speaking about the company's technology strategy, Wade-Gery said she is more interested in the rate of improvement: "If it's not going to work, fail fast and move on".

Describing why developing the company's multi-channel offer is so important, Wade-Gery said customers who shop across two channels, like in-store and online, are worth four times more than a customer that only shops one channel.

And customers who shop three channels - in-store, online and on mobile - are worth eight times as much as the customer who only visits the store.

Wade-Gery emphasised that technology is there to improve and work in tandem with the in-store experience, and does not foresee significant store closures as people migrate online.

"For me, if we can show we have genuinely improved and changed the shopping experience [with technology], I think that's what people prefer. Online only is not what people want," she said.