Customers are the heart of our business, so it is vital that we understand what they want from M&S. Our Customer Insight Unit (CIU) uses a combination of market research and customer feedback to help us understand how our customers think and identify the factors that influence their shopping behaviour.
During 2012/13 there was little economic growth in the UK, with a Gross Domestic Product increase of just 0.3% in 2012. Vacancy rates remained high and over the course of the year a number of well known retailers disappeared from the high street.
Rising energy costs and petrol price increases further squeezed household budgets this year. As the gap between pay rises and inflation widened, incomes were further eroded by benefit cuts and the removal of certain tax credits.
The market was adversely affected by unseasonal weather conditions during 2012/13. The early part of the financial year included three of the wettest months on record and the UK experienced the coldest March in over 50 years.
These factors contributed towards a market footfall decrease of 3.7%. Retailers fought hard to win consumers' spend and there were continued high levels of promotional activity on the high street.
There were genuine moments of national celebration during the year and The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games lifted the nation's mood. However, the feelgood factor they generated proved fairly short-lived and did not translate into higher retail sales.
How is this affecting our customers?
Consumers have become used to navigating choppy economic waters and confidence levels continued to improve as a result. However, high profile administrations – coupled with the ongoing threat of a triple dip recession – meant this confidence remained fragile and a sense of caution prevailed.
With the unique national celebrations finished in the early part of the year, customers attached greater significance to traditional events and family celebrations. They were determined to make these occasions truly special – making their time with friends and family more memorable.
Health and wellbeing also featured prominently in consumer priorities this year. They looked to retailers to help make living a healthier lifestyle more enjoyable and affordable, with less emphasis on dieting and more focus on delicious and nutritious quality ingredients.
Trust was also an important issue within the food industry this year. Customer concerns about transparency and traceability in the meat supply chain prompted a move towards quality food retailers.
Ultimately, consumers wanted to feel every purchase they made was worthwhile – adding genuine value to their lives. As a result, they looked to retailers to inspire them and provide clear reasons to spend.
How are our customers shopping?
With shopping trips restricted and budgets limited, customers told us that they wanted to enjoy their shopping experience, in a stress-free and inspiring environment. They wanted to feel valued by retailers and great customer service was a key consideration for shoppers. As a result, we invested further in our service proposition – delivering new training to our store employees.
Over the last year, any growth in the market has come from online, as more customers shifted to shopping across multiple channels. As a result, they expected retailers to join up their different shopping channels and provide them with a seamless experience and service whichever way they chose to shop.
The continued growth of smartphone and tablet ownership meant mobile devices became an even more influential browsing and buying tool this year. This growth has not only made it easier for customers to shop on the move but it has also altered their behaviour at home, with the rise of 'second screening'. This trend, whereby more customers are watching TV with a mobile or tablet device in hand, has proved to be a valuable opportunity for retailers to engage directly and