31/10/2012 06:08 GMT

Marks & Spencer Adds Germany, Spain, Austria and Belgium To International Websites

Marks & Spencer is expanding its overseas offerings with four new European websites being launched on 19 November.

The new localised sites, in Germany, Spain, Austria and Belgium, were chosen after the countries' customers exhibited high demand, with online shoppers regularly using the international delivery process.

The move follows the earlier successful launch of websites in France and Ireland. The international editions will trade in Euros and offer the preferred local language, payment and delivery options.

M&S believes localising its offering will help encourage growth and take its customer engagement in these markets to another level.

Marc Bolland, chief executive of Marks & Spencer, said: “This is us moving forward with our plan to transform M&S from traditional British retailer to a leading international, multi-channel retailer. M&S is a brand that’s synonymous with British quality, style and value and this move enables us to extend the reach of our brand to more new markets.”

Laura Wade-Gery, executive director of M&S's e-commerce multi-channel, added: “Entering these countries with online capabilities allows us to serve customers right across some of the biggest and fastest growing online fashion markets in Europe.

"Since 2008 we’ve been in dialogue with the customers who already use our international delivery service and we’ve learnt much from them. With our new sites we can provide customers with what they want – a fully localised service that enables them to shop with M&S in the way they want to.”

The new websites will provide customers with access to a more than 15,000 M&S products, including womenswear, lingerie, menswear, kidswear, and a selection of homeware.

Shore Capital retail analyst Clive Black told the Huffington Post UK it was good to see progress on the ground with respect to M&S’s drive into international online.

"M&S has spoken extensively about development both internationally and online and these are concrete steps that should be commercially rewarding, noting as we do that the chosen markets reflect the strongest activity levels from its ‘English’ language sites," he said.

"We will see whether local sites takes M&S more deeply into local markets, rather than expats in due course; it should do. This said, the all-embracing question for M&S’s investors is whether or not it is re-finding its mojo in core ladieswear in its British stores."

I have no problem with M&S trying to re-establish its position across Continental Europe and setting up websites may help there. It is a reasonably low cost way of (re-) entering the markets.

Mintel's director of retail Richard Perks said while there was nothing wrong with re-establishing overseas positions with new websites, he believed a better strategy for retailers was to combine online sales with physical stores.

"To do either on its own is not enough; in fact, to ignore a major channel of distribution is to put the business at a significant disadvantage," he told Huff Post UK.

"I'm impressed with what M&S has done online - it has a good service and it is great to see it experimenting as it did at Cheshire Oaks. But there are two different issues here; order points and display and the merchandise.

"Online and stores can do order points and display well, but however good the logistics, if the customers don't want to buy the merchandise, the business will fail."

Perks added it wasn't clear if the fashion lines introduced by M&S (which have fallen flat in the UK) would woo over overseas customers.

"It is clear there is internationalisation in young fashion, but the older you get the more tastes in different countries diverge. You can't argue that the merchandise that has failed in the UK will "therefore" succeed in Belgium, any more than you can say that if it succeed in the UK it will do so elsewhere," he said.

"One of M&S's biggest problems is that it has lost the younger end of the market. In the mid 1990s the average age of its customers was in the mid-40s. Now it is in the early 50s. That's a function of the success of Debenhams and Next, but also that the business has not managed to regain the status is had before the down patch of 1997-2005."