M&S has today announced an expansion to its popular Insider programme with the arrival of five new Insiders – one of which is a first of its kind for UK retail; a virtual persona named Mira [Marks & Spencer, Influencer, Reality, Augmented] that has been developed using a combination of photography, cutting-edge CGI and computer vision.
Mira was created in collaboration with creative tech agency, Happy Finish. Whilst Mira is a virtual character, her content will play out in the real-world and will be managed by M&S’ in-house team.
Jeremy Yates, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Happy Finish, said: “It’s brilliant to see our latest project with M&S launch today. Marks & Spencer are real leaders when it comes to strategic use of cutting-edge technology to engage existing and new audiences. A big part of our work for M&S focuses on helping the brand unlock new ways to bring its product ranges to life and enrich customer experience. Creating Mira to complement the existing M&S Insiders team is set to do both. We look forward to many more innovative projects with the amazing team at M&S.”
‘M&S Insiders’ launched in 2018 and is made up of M&S colleagues – from store assistants and stylists to buyers and designers – who share style inspiration and product finds with their followers. There are now 13 Insiders, and they often produce some of M&S’ best performing social content – returning, on average, 30 per cent higher engagement than external influencer programmes.
Mira will join the Insiders in showcasing M&S’ latest collections, trends and style tips as 1 in 4 people in the UK say they are influenced by social media to buy clothes*. Through the introduction of a virtual character, M&S will be able to experiment by responding to trending conversations at pace and be agile with how and when content is captured. Creating a Virtual Influencer also gives M&S the opportunity to connect with a younger audience and build a community with a demographic that are interested in this new form of technology.
M&S is the first High Street retailer to experiment with its own digital character and it is the latest example of M&S testing and trialling new technology to reach and inspire customers.
Anna Braithwaite, Director of Marketing for Clothing & Home, said: “We are excited to welcome Mira – UK retail’s first Virtual Influencer – to our M&S Insider family. Her introduction is the just latest example of how M&S has become bolder in experimenting with emerging technology and trends to inspire our customers – whether that’s our Live Shopping events or our expert online consultation services such as digital bra fit. A virtual influencer means we can be more fleet of foot in live trends/conversations and opens possibilities in both the physical and virtual world in the future. I can’t wait to hear customer feedback and see where we take Mira next.”
In addition to Mira, four other Insiders are set to join the programme. This includes a Menswear Stylist (@marksandspencer_dan) and, for the first time, two Insiders who will focus on engaging their audiences on M&S’ Kidswear offering (@marksandspencer_sharon and @marksandspencer_jodie) and an Insider focused on Beauty (@marksandspencer_bethany) as the retailer focuses on evolving the category through the introduction of dynamic third-party brands, including Clinique and Benefit Cosmetics, and developing its own-brand products, including Apothecary which has grown to a £20m brand in just two years.
Leveraging digital technologies to inspire customers
Today M&S also launches its first dedicated live shoppable Christmas series on M&S.com which will feature guest presenters covering a different theme each week, including dressing the home for Christmas, great value gifting and a what to wear guide. The show streams live every Thursday at 6pm.
M&S first launched Live Shopping in January to give customers the opportunity to join a completely shoppable live broadcast, hear more about a product range and pose live questions to a M&S expert. It taps into a growing trend that’s expected to account for 10-20% of global e-commerce by 2026**.
Other digital-first initiatives implemented over the last 24 months, include the launch of M&S’ new digital Click & Collect format with 1 in 2 M&S.com orders facilitated through the service, and the introduction of online video consultations for customers browsing furniture, menswear and lingerie on M&S.com. We have facilitated calls with more than 35k customers and 86% of those surveyed said they would use the service again.