UK clothing, homeware and food retailer Marks & Spencer has invested in new software to further improve its sampling process and help reduce waste.

M&S has partnered with technology firm First Insight and digital solutions firm Optitex. The retailer says it is now able to leverage the combination of First Insight’s product testing solution and Optitex’s 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software to support digital workflows, create sustainable sampling processes, and increase speed-to-market.

Marks & Spencer has already been leveraging First Insight’s consumer-driven predictive analytics software solution to make design, buying and pricing decisions across categories that include apparel, lingerie, footwear, accessories, food, home and beauty. The platform has enabled the British multinational retailer to test tens of thousands of products across more than 50 departments and use that information to shape collections and assortments that meet customers’ desires and to offer those items at the right prices.

“Our customers are at the heart of everything we do,” says Elaine Wheeler, head of digital product development at Marks & Spencer. “We’ve put customer-focused digital innovation at the heart of our business, and this partnership will allow us to bring winning products that our customers truly want to market more quickly and sustainably.”

The retailer achieved successful results from new product testing using the First Insight solution and Optitex 2D CAD technology. Based on that success, Marks & Spencer has begun using 3D CAD visualisations in its product testing for a number of departments. The transition to 3D imagery has resulted in increased test completion rates and boosted respondents’ comments by 50%, providing richer product feedback to the company’s product development and merchant teams.

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The use of 3D CAD technology has also reduced cost and lead time in Marks & Spencer’s product development process. Incorporating digital solutions can reduce lead time from 24 weeks to three weeks for retailers, allowing them to increase their speed-to-market and their margins.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated and expedited a shift from high-touch to low-touch across every aspect of retail, including the product development process,” says Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight. “Our partnership with Optitex allows retailers like Marks & Spencer to digitise their product development cycle, which eliminates the need to create and traffic physical samples, host showroom visits and conduct in-store product testing—all of which are crucial capabilities not only during the Coronavirus outbreak, but also for long-term sustainability and efficiency.”