M&S: customers want business with purpose - but make it easy for them

M&S director of sustainable business Mike Barry stepped in at the last minute
M&S director of sustainable business Mike Barry stepped in at the last minute

Marks & Spencer's director of sustainable business told an IPA audience that customers wanted to live sustainable lives, but did not want it to be difficult - the day before chief exec Steve Rowe unveiled a rejig of the retailer's board

Consumers want to buy from businesses with purpose – but only if brands make it easy for them, the director of Marks and Spencer's sustainable business policy, Plan A, has said.

Mike Barry told an audience at an IPA event, Advertising and Conscious Capitalism, that the case for moving to a sustainable model was overwhelming, but it was up to marketers and agency partners to help bring consumers along.

Barry described "three fundamental drivers" of the need to become sustainable – the first being the vast competition for resources that is coming as the world’s middle class grows from one billion to four billion by the middle of the century.

"There literally aren’t enough fish in the sea for everyone to consume as we do in the West," he said.

"The second pressure is social – can business prove that it puts as much back into society as it takes out?

"And the third is the truly existential one – new business models. We’re about to hit a fourth industrial revolution, with drones, driverless cars, robotics. All of which can be used for bad or for good. Unless you’re trusted by consumers to use these technologies, you’ll be left on the sidelines."

WIll shoppers embrace 3D-printed and recycled clothes?

Barry added that consumers wanted to buy from ethical businesses, but companies needed to create the groundwork for that to happen. "What are customers telling us? They want business with a purpose, but they don’t want it to be difficult," he said.

He went on to take about the huge opportunities to embrace new technologies, and the challenge of getting consumers on board – suggesting that this was a task for the marketing and advertising industries.

"Imagine what a Marks & Spencer store looks like in ten years time," Barry said. "You’ll walk into a store, full body scanner, walk through it in 30 seconds flat, you’re a size 10.2 not a size 10.

"You pick the kind of product you want, downstairs it’ll be printed on a 3D printer, you have a copy in the M&S store, walk out. You wear the dress three or four times, get a bit bored of it, bring it back to us – we melt it down to make next year’s fashion.

"How do we get consumers to participate in that kind of new business model? I haven’t got the answer."

Expanded role for marketing boss Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne

Barry was standing in for marketing director Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, who had been called away to an emergency meeting of the board. It later emerged that CEO Steve Rowe was in the process of finalising a restructure of the leadership team. 

Previously executive director, marketing and international, Bousquet-Chavanne is now executive director of customer, marketing & M&S.com. Along with the web site, he will also take on responsibility for Plan A.

Rowe will now take direct responsibility for the international business. He had already said he would keep his responsibility for the retailer’s clothing division, after succeeding Marc Bolland last month. Chief financial officer Helen Weir, meanwhile, has been given responsibility for strategy implementation.

"On my first day as CEO, I committed to putting M&S customers at the heart of everything we do," Rowe said. "These changes reflect this; a simpler management structure with a smaller, more focused team running M&S will lead to more efficient decision making and move us closer to our customers.

Before joining M&S in 2012, Bousquet-Chavanne held a number of exec and non-exec roles, with 19 years of his career spent at cosmetics company Estée Lauder.

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