What went wrong with the Marks & Spencer website redesign that made them lose sales?

marks and spencer website redesign

Marks and Spencers, the british retail giant recently launched their £150 million website redesign to the public. However, the redesign that was two years in the making started badly leading to an 8% decrease in online sales not to mention countless frustrated and irate customers.

m and s new homepage

The most common complaints that visitors made were

  • Couldn’t register on the site or reset their passwords.
  • Navigation was hard to use and very different to the ones they were used to.
  • Finding items they wanted was proving a challenge.
  • Erratic delivery of items. Some customers had items delivered to the wrong address

Internet commenters were all shouting in unison asking for the old website to be brought back.

marks and spencer website frustrations

Frustrated users vent on www.thisismoney.co.uk

 What went wrong?

We have to consider how long this entire process took – two whole years. Laura Wade-Grey led a team of 50 software developers and attempted a startup innovation approach to redesigning this website. This was a replatform moving away from the Amazon platform.

Frustrating user experience

Firstly, lets talk about the User Experience. For anyone, having to re-register their details on a site is undoubtedly going to cause frustration and that means visitors abandoning their cart and leaving the site. Previously stored details were now invalid because M & S’s new site had started from scratch abandoning their 6million user database during the transition.

Technical issues and bugs

Secondly,There was an unnaturally high amount of technical issues and bugs that brought the site crashing down during the launch. These bugs were not limited to site access but also wreaked havoc on users being able to buy and even if they did manage to achieve that, their orders were being delivered to random addresses that they hadn’t chosen. Furthermore, stock numbers were also erratic which meant that even if the order was successful, visitors were notified that the item was out of stock. These are basic usability bugs that should have been ironed out before the website was let out to the public. Thorough testing would’ve been part of the redesign process so its puzzling to see these rookie errors happening which would have had a detrimental effect on the visitor’s perception of the M & S brand.

Too much of a change for loyal customers

Lastly, it was the big launch that ultimately cost M & S. The redesign was seen more an event than an incremental process, changing everything “overnight”. Loyal customers who had been using the website for years had gotten accustomed to the user interface and the workings of the old website. Such a dramatic change would mean that they would have to unlearn and relearn how they use the website. Considering M&S’s key demographics, this should have been focussed on a lot more. Bigger websites like amazon also redesign parts of their site quite often but in a more controlled manner. I don’t doubt that M & S did usability testing with some of their target demographics but the resulting site hasn’t made many fans.

marks and spencer customers 2

What could they have done to avoid it?

It’s all well and good hypothesising what could have been done better in the redesign process but the key problem was the fact that the redesign process took so long. During that time, trends have changed and world of online shopping has moved ahead as well.

Amazon do this all the time. They redesign pages or elements of their site frequently but where they are different is they know that their customers are used to their site and how to navigate it. Any changes would be incremental and would have to have a significant positive impact on sales and revenue before being rolled out live. A/B or MVT testing allows you to mitigate any risk and know for certain whether the changes you are making are positive or not. Drastic changes can never be monitored meaningfully and you won’t be able to separate the variables that are causing the positive or negative impact on conversions. With testing on your current site prior to redesign, you will hit a local maxima meaning that you have optimised as the site as best as you can in its current incarnation. It’s at this stage that you would take the learnings and move towards the global maxima with the redesign process.


What can we learn from this?

In a previous blog post, I had written why redesigning a site is risky and M & S are by no means the first or the last to fall prey to this.

Testing should be continuous and that means before, during and after the launch and rather than test drastic redesigns that take two years to push live, test incremental changes and filter those learnings into a redesign.

Redesigning websites can be risky especially when you aim to try and do “Big Launches”. Incremental and controlled changes which are closely monitored allow you to improve confidently. Marks and spencer may have other issues that could have caused the slump in sales but messing up their visitor’s user experience has certainly played a part in it.


Take part in this conversation and leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas on what M & S could’ve done to avoid this and what other businesses can do to prevent something like this from happening to them.

I’m going to be holding a free webinar on 19th Jan 2016 at 3 pm (UK time GMT)

conversion optimisation webinar
Spaces are limited, so if you are interested register for the webinar via this link. There will be no recordings or replays.

  • Stephen Gibson

    Having to re-register is just a huge No, don’t know why they couldn’t port the data to the new site, they had more than enough time. The problem with site launches people do it through boredom of the old site & the longer they go on the better everyone expects them to be,
    But I am surprised M&S didn’t test (through MVT or what usersdo ) different increments of their new site as that would have been an early warning signal

  • Philip Valentino

    This is plain corporate stupidity – “Previously stored details were now invalid because M & S’s new site had started from scratch abandoning their 6million user database during the transition.” – Why ? Why was the data not migrated to the new Platform ? was any user-testing of the customer end-to-end process done before live ? sound likes very little to none – issues unrelated to the browser or web. The “revolutionary” redesign (as opposed to evolutionary updates) lost many customers – and I suspect M&S demographic is people who like minimal change in their lives. Makes you wonder how many real customers the team of 50 software developers worked with over two years ( re Agile, Discovery phase, iteration etc). “Big-Bang” switches from one system to another also carry huge risk and better be tested to destruction – can you imagine a Bank doing the same ?

    • Manuel da Costa

      Agreed Philip.

  • Pingback: Why Your Website Redesign Will Fail to Lift Sales Much (And What To Do Instead)()

  • w097045

    I know this is old but I have a question, why are so many sites doing redesigns and expecting people to re-register, it’s getting annoying now. I’m on the Account Management side and have done re-designs and have never had to do this and would avoid at all costs. Anyone know why so many sites are doing it?

    As for M&S what a dogs dinner, it was awful, lazy loading images, I see they’ve moved away from it but why use in the first place, nobody likes it, any focus group will tell you that. John Lewis moved away from it but astonishingly Tesco increased the number of images loaded but then decreased it to 10 making it a horrible browsing experience, if you want to refine a search to just Tesco items you need to scroll wait, scroll wait, scroll wait just to get to the box to tick Tesco, however they manage the site in-house and it really shows. M&S from what I’ve read was also in-house led by a former Magazine person.

    M&S images were badly sized for the a space they were given, Menu system was daft, why have menu at top, another menu repeating below that taking up a huge amount of space with choices listed horizontally, separated by a comma and not even alphabetical, so mattresses was first option in homewares so obviously not listed by best selling either, 2 years for that. Then menu on the left as well. Why do you have to do another click to get product information pop up box then you have to click to get rid of it, of course people want product info, they’re not just going to buy off the picture.I could go on and I haven’t started on the mess that was the launch.

    Beyond awful. But then speaking to some people who’ve left the company because they can’t stomach working there any more, there’s a culture of those at the top are beyond criticism, cliquey dictators and strangling bureaucracy.

    Why are so many websites making people re-register when they do a site design?

    • Asking for new logins is bad enough… what about not even preserving the user’s data? I logged into puma after they went through a redesign and did not find any purchase history (I had bought a few items from them over 5 years), here is what they said – “After an internal change in our homepage we are sorry to inform you that customer histories for activity before 04/10/2014 are not longer available online.” I think that is unforgivable.

  • Pingback: This Website Redesign Got 250% More Leads Before it Was Finished()

  • Pingback: 41 Detailed A/B Testing Strategies to Skyrocket Your Testing Skills - Raphael Paulin-Daigle()

  • Pingback: Why Your Website Redesign Will Fail To Lift Sales Much (And What To Do Instead) – Business 2 Community | Modern Interior Design()

  • Pingback: Radicale redesign of evolutionaire redesign: wat kies je best?()

  • Pingback: 9 Website Optimization Mistakes Even Smart Agencies Make()

  • Pingback: 9 Website Optimization Mistakes Even Smart Agencies Make | Profit Maxim Tips&Tricks()

  • Whenever I ask for a budget for testing clients usually look at me like I asked for the impossible. A a UX, am amazed how many big companies are more ‘task delivery’ driven rather than ‘user centered’ in their design/redesign.

  • Pingback: Comment se planter dans sa refonte ? : Capitaine Commerce 3.6()

  • Pingback: What went wrong with Marks and spencer's websit...()

  • Pingback: La revue de presse des Thiguys #3 - Le blog des Thiguys()

  • Pingback: Don’t Mess Up Your Website Redesign: An Evidence-Based Strategy | Artem Khasanov()

  • Tarian

    M & S have redesigned again – and its even worse.
    DULL from the start – black text on acres of empty, GLARING white space.

    Much like their shop fronts – unnoticeable, forgettable minimalism.

    Unclear navigation – e.g. plain text in menu bare with no borders, tabs or shading to distingush from passive headers.
    Ditto for product lists.
    WHAT PARTS OF THE PAGE ARE ACTIVE ???? (without wasting time trawling with the point…)
    HUGE photos reducing visible content – and making the Customer “work” i.e. scroll

    M & S : What’s the point anymore ?