Marks & Spencer made a giant step forward into multi-channel retailing yesterday when it announced that it had formed agreements with four 'new commerce' partners.

The high street retailer has signed up with Microsoft's consumer Internet service, MSN; BBC Worldwide's online shopping portal, beeb.com; digital TV company ,Open; and Telewest, the broadband cable communications operator.

Keith Bogg, director, Marks & Spencer Home and New Selling Channels, said: " Our partners were attracted by the strength of the M&S brand and, in return, partnering with them means that we will be able to acquire new customers at very attractive costs."

He continued: "It is very clear that for convenience our customers want the option to shop for our products and services via different channels, whether it be in store, via our catalogue, over the Internet or digital TV. The development of our multi-channel offer means that we will be able to give our customers greater choice and improved customer service, while enabling us to maintain a closer relationship with them throughout the transaction process."

Timescale for delivery
As part of M&S's strategy to develop multiple delivery channels, the company has identified a number of commitments to develop its Internet and digital television services. By Christmas 2000, M&S will have more than 3,000 products available on its website.
By summer 2001 the company will have an integrated multiple channel supply chain, making all in-store products available over the Internet and other digital channels.

In addition, Marks & Spencer's will roll-out in-store kiosks enabling customers to access the integrated supply chain and giving them the ability to search for products by characteristic. The in-store ordering facilities will also benefit from these features.

To drive sales, attract new customers and realise the potential of its extensive Internet offering Marks & Spencer has secured alliances with two of the UK's leading Internet portals.

MSN Shopping
M&S has formed a three year strategic partnership with MSN, the UK's most visited web destination, whereby M&S will take a premier position on MSN's newly relaunched shopping channel - msn shopping - which goes live next week.

The MSN Shopping channel has been specifically designed to deliver the best experience to consumers looking to buy online and provide its partners with access to the most qualified consumer traffic. Marks & Spencer will be a premier partner within three shopping categories - clothing & fashion, home & garden and flowers & gifts - and an anchor partner on the Baby, Kidswear & Maternity and health sections of the site. M&S will also have a position on the MSN UK Home Page, which will lead directly to Marks & Spencer's shopping site.

beeb.com
M&S has reached an agreement with the BBC Worldwide's online shopping portal, beeb.com, in which it will take an anchor tenancy. The partnership has been signed for an initial period of three years.
Marks & Spencer also fully recognises the potential of interactive digital television (IDTV) as a means to access new customers as well as providing a more comprehensive service to existing customers. In recognition of this, the company has signed an agreement with two of the UK's leading digital television providers.

Open
As part of a five-year agreement with Open, the UK's only satellite IDTV shopping channel with nearly four million subscribers, M&S will take a position on the Open platform.

The agreement has the option for renewal for a further five years and will provide Marks & Spencer with key access to the (IDTV) arena. Marks & Spencer has agreement to sell its entire range of products, however will initially concentrate on its clothing and home products. The Marks & Spencer ordering, processing and delivery systems will be fully integrated with Open's when Marks & Spencer launches next year.

Telewest
Marks & Spencer has also reached a three year agreement with the Telewest, a leading UK broadband operator with 1.6 million analogue customers and over 223,000 digital subscribers, whereby Marks & Spencer will take a premier position within Telewest's "Active Digital" interactive services from October of this year.

The agreement has a further three year renewal option. Marks & Spencer has agreement to offer its full range, however will initially launch with 100 to 200 products from the fashion & sportswear, home, gift and flower ranges. Over the next year, Marks & Spencer will work closely with Telewest to enhance its offering to provide a comprehensive range of products and services by Christmas 2001.

Luc Vandevelde, chairman of Marks & Spencer, said: "This is the first indication of how Marks & Spencer aims to drive its position as a leading multi-channel retailer. Marks & Spencer has for years been the anchor tenant in many of the UK's leading shopping centres and now, by utilising these, and other forthcoming partnerships, we intend to have a significant presence among the shopping sites of the future."

Peter Robinson, head of e-commerce at Marks & Spencer, added: "Since its launch in November. our online sales have grown rapidly as we have constantly been developing the website to focus on the customer, through enhanced functionality, improved navigation, reliable fulfilment and a rapid expansion of the products offered."

He continued: "The partnerships are timed to coincide with these developments and the promotional activity already started this autumn. We are delighted to be working with these partners and look forward to establishing similar agreements with other leading organisations in the future."