Marks & Spencer looks to start-ups for a tech make-over as the High Street stalwart adapts to the age of online retail
M&S may be nearly 140 years old, but it’s eager to dust off the cobwebs and prove there’s life in the retailer yet.
The High Street stalwart has penned a deal with Founders Factory – a firm that helps build and support start-ups – in a move that gives it exclusive access to cutting-edge technologies and entrepreneurial ways of thinking.
Through the joint venture the firms will discover and finance the development of 18 new retail start-ups.
M&S has upped the pace on its digital transformation strategy, aimed at fireproofing the retailer as UK High Streets undergo dramatic and rapid change
It comes as M&S takes action to stay relevant in a fast-changing retail environment.
The retailer, which haemorrhaged profits last year, is making radical changes to the way it works, including streamlining its store estate, revamping its Sparks loyalty scheme and slowing down its Simply Food store opening programme.
It also penned a new deal with Microsoft to explore ways of refreshing its in-store customer service through Artificial Intelligence.
All this forms part of M&S’ five-year digital transformation strategy, launched in 2017 by boss Steve Rowe.
Today, Rowe said: ‘Partnering with Founders Factory as their exclusive retail partner gives M&S access to a global network of start-ups and entrepreneurs which will provide disruptive thinking and questioning to the way we work at a time of critical transformation within the business.’
It was deemed an eye-opening sign of the times when, at the last FTSE quarterly reshuffle, Ocado was propelled into the blue chip index’s upper echelons, while M&S swerved relegation by the skin of its teeth.
This followed the ‘Tesla moment’ of trendy online fashion firm Asos overtaking M&S in terms of market value.
Brent Hoberman (pictured) co-launched Founders Factory to help create start ups. He is also the man behind booking site lastminute.com
Founders Factory, which was co-founded by Brent Hoberman, who launched lastminute.com, counts L’Oreal, EasyJet and Aviva among its clients.
Hoberman said: ‘After over 60 investments in the last two years we have seen the huge potential of combining start-up innovation with corporate scale and expertise, and so we are excited by this new chapter in a sector that is changing rapidly through technology.’