How WordPress changed M&S

Written by Vineeta G - November 24, 2013

Article read time: 5 minutes

M&S is one of the UK’s largest retailers, established 129 years ago and now employing over 80,000 people in over 50 countries. So they don’t change their mind easily unless they are really convinced.

M&S Global Multi-Site Network
Country dropdown on arrival

They own a large number of web properties, mostly based on custom systems or ‘Enterprise’ platforms delivered by a small list of pre-approved suppliers. Which a hard list to get on.

Last year M&S launched a project to deliver individual country brochure sites for each of the countries it operates outside the UK.  Most countries did not have their own website, and those that did were inconsistent with global brand standards and not under the control of M&S HQ.  Many were designed in individual countries with content and photographs that did not meet the high standards demanded by global management.

The new project would provide brand consistent websites to over 50 national franchises in their business, giving local offices assigned powers, but master control being retained by the global HQ.

But this project was going to be different.  Instead of selecting one of their existing pre-approved agencies to build a custom system as originally planned, they decided to test the water and put the project out to tender.  The aim was to see if there were any benefits in terms of cost, speed, quality and solution that would be offered by other vendors.

A number of new agencies were therefore asked to submit proposals alongside the existing pre-approved suppliers.  They knew ‘WHAT’ they wanted to achieve, but did not want to specify ‘HOW’ it should be achieved.  So this was a great opportunities to shine for new vendors.

So we listened, discussed options and identified how we felt their needs could be served using Wordpress. We also challenged their pre-conceptions about WordPress and Open Source solutions in general. The main thing of course, quoted honestly.

Our solution:

  • WordPress Multi-site
  • Global HQ controls the network
  • Individual countries can manage their own content, but not touch code and settings
  • Global HQ can pre-populate content and images each season in a central repository
  • Individual countries can pull through the content that they want to use, saving everyone time and improving brand consistency
  • Each country site had a multi-language option for English and their local languages using WPML

Lucky for us, our solution hit the nail on the head.  M&S took what was for them a huge risk and went against standard policy to commission our solution.

This is what the site now looks like:

Global M&S site
Global M&S Lingerie page

So how did it change M&S?

  1. They realised that Open Source technology can provide out the box solutions, saving time and money
  2. Open source solutions do not tie you to a particular vendor, preventing agency blackmail and creating a more healthy client-agency relationship
  3. WordPress has already got the basics in place (usability, flexibility, user roles, multisite etc) so that the team can focus on the things that are unique and important to their business
  4. They can take more control over their own websites, both at a global and individual country level.  Other systems they use generally leave them much more dependent on their external partners
  5. WordPress being an easy to use CMS, it was easier to train the franchisees so that they could manage their own websites
  6. The WordPress community is friendly and passionate, making it easier to find partners that genuinely care about their best interests
  7. WordPress keeps getting better and they reap the rewards whereas custom systems will always start becoming out of date from the day you launch them

The global web project was turned into a corporate case study of best practice within M&S.  The case study documented how the use of WordPress and partnership with a Wholegrain Digital delivered the following benefits:

  1. The first phase of the global web project was delivered in 10% of the allocated budget (based on quotes from existing suppliers)
  2. It was delivered in 3 months – 9 months faster than their fastest ever web project, including rigorous quality and security testing
  3. There were 70% less issues raised during testing than typical web projects
  4. They had a scalable platform and a partner that genuinely cared about their needs

We have since worked on additional phases of the global web project and developed a WordPress multi-site for M&S Business.

This is what it looked like:

Marks and Spencer screenshot for business website
Marks and Spencer for business website screenshot from 2015

M&S is now actively looking at how open source technologies can be used throughout their business including e-commerce, and how smaller specialist agencies can work with them as partners to deliver new solutions, save them money and get new ideas online faster.

Note: This was a presentation at WordCamp 2013 in London on the 23rd of November 2013. Vineeta presented this as a lightning talk – topic being ‘How WordPress changed M&S’.