Marks and Spencer has launched a "digital labs" division to lead innovation in-store and online.
Kyle McGinn, formerly CTO and managing director at independent online review platform Reevoo.com who has also been involved with startup communities such as Seedcamp and Eden Ventures, has been hired as the U.K. department store chain's head of digital to lead the proposed new team. The lab will trial new technologies, build prototypes and develop concepts for implementation at scale.
"Over the last 18 months we've really embraced digital experimentation — from being the first retailer to join Samsung's Smart TV platform to the inclusion of Aurasma technology in our app," said Laura Wade-Gery, executive director e-commerce multi-channel, in a statement. "By strengthening our in-house expertise with a dedicated digital lab, we can move with even greater pace and deliver first to market technology and experiences for our customers."
The separate unit is designed to have the nimbleness of a start-up yet benefit from M&S's expansive in-house IT resources to drive ideas across in-store technology, digital marketing and digital platforms for employees.
"We want a small, dedicated unit to enable us to have a start-up, entrepreneurial mentality and tech-savviness, and to put that together with customer insight," she told Retail Week. "The whole idea is to test some quite experimental stuff — I wouldn't rule anything out."
In February, M&S pledged to transform itself into an international multi-channel retailer following a 10.8 percent increase in multi-channel sales over the holiday period. That included a 90 increase in sales from mobile devices. The stores already feature iPad-clad associates, interactive digital screens in some health and beauty departments, and in-store kiosks.
Some reports compared the venture to Walmart Labs, which has acquired nearly a dozen startups since being formed though the acquisition of Kosmix in 2011. Walmart owns M&S rival Asda. Nordstrom, Staples and Home Depot are also among retailers recently opening innovation labs.
Where should retailers focus their digital investments?