January 17, 2013, 11:57 AM

Marks & Spencer turns on in-store e-commerce displays

A touch-screen display lets store shoppers configure a room with items to buy online.

Lead Photo

Shoppers in U.K.-based Marks & Spencer department stores will soon be able to interact with a large touch-screen digital display screen that lets them configure a room setting with images of furniture, appliances and other items the retailer sells. The shopper or a store associate will also be able to control the same room planner screen from a handheld tablet computer, and then complete an online purchase on the tablet screen. Consumers will also have the option to save the personalized room configuration so they can access it later and potentially complete the purchase on their home computers.

Marks & Spencer, No. 19 in Internet Retailer’s Top 400 Europe, plans to roll out the interactive display screens in two of its U.K. stores within a month. Based on the results from that test, it may then feature the screens in as many as 85 of its stores that sell large furniture, Benjy Meyer, head of new channels for the London-based 700-store retail chain, said during a demonstration this week of the Cisco Interior Inspirer digital screen application at the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention & Expo in New York.

“This is about creating an engaging experience for shoppers,” Meyer said.

The Interior Inspirer application was developed by Cisco Systems Inc.’s Internet Business Solutions Group and Amsterdam, Netherlands-based INDG, a software developer that specializes in building interactive shopping applications that can be accessed from multiple devices.

Marks & Spencer is also migrating its e-commerce site from an e-commerce platform provided by Amazon.com Inc. to IBM Corp.’s WebSphere Commerce platform, Meyer said. Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. The move to the IBM platform, he noted, will support larger-scale e-commerce activity and provide integrated applications such as web analytics and supply chain management software. The IBM software suite will also allow the retailer to use the Interior Inspirer application to gather information about how its customers like to shop, and then eventually share such information with suppliers. “We’ll learn from the use of the system what products people are interested in,” Meyer said.

The in-store interactive display screens, which are about two high by three feet wide, will also allow shoppers to communicate with product experts via live chat. The system, which is hosted on the Internet, lets experts connect from any location.

Cisco, INDG and Marks & Spencer took about six months to develop the retailer’s Interior Inspire system, Meyer said. He declined to share the cost of developing the system, but said the retailer expects a return on its investment within 12 months.

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