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Mike Simons is the Editor of ComputerWorldUK and Techworld. He joined IDG in 2006 after almost a decade at Computer Weekly. An award winning IT and business journalist, Mike has a particularly focused on major IT projects and public sector IT. His fascination with the business and social impact of technology began at university, where he obtained an MSc at the Science Policy Research Unit of Sussex University.

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Marks & Spencer - why the CFO should resign for a website failure

Forget about politicians who don't know the price of a pint of milk, this takes the biscuit...

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When Marks & Spencer relaunched its website in February after a £150 million revamp, none of its directors could have expected it to drive away customers, yet that is precisely what happened.

When M&S warned in May that problems at its new website would hit the bottom line, and would take “four to six months to fix”, no one expected it to actually take that long to fix the problem, particularly when at the start of the year strong online performance was the only bright spot in an ongoing sales debacle.

When M&S presented quarterly results yesterday, including an eight percent decline in online sales, no one could have expected the directors to be so woefully unprepared and so crass in their response to questions.

Alan Stewart, M&S finance director, in particular, showed a complete failure to grasp mobile technology, e-commerce or even basic bricks and mortar customer service.

Dismissing complaints about the website, Stewart said nothing had gone wrong with the site - really? For a £150 million overhaul, most would expect better. But worse, he went on to say: "It is a bit like going to the supermarket for milk, they've moved it and you can't find it immediately."

There you have it. A £150 million failure reduced to the failed hunt for a pint of milk.

When you do go on the M&S website to look for milk, you don’t find the white stuff you put in your tea. All you get is porcelain and beauty products. Now being charitable, but highlighting another failure, M&S don’t provide an online food delivery service, so listing food stuffs isn’t perhaps a priority. Nevertheless it is a pretty crass analogy for Stewart to draw and a pretty clear insight into his grasp of the future.

Still, it could spark a new time-wasting office game - type something into the M&S search engine and see what comes up. Continuing the milk products theme, I tried searching for “clotted cream” and got Culottes - very fetching, but not for me.

While Stewart sees little untoward in a £150 million website needing six months of live running to bed in, analyst groups such as Forrester are talking about the mobile moment. A new book, The mobile mind shift, warns: “Your new battleground for customers is this mobile moment - the instant in which your customer is seeking an answer. If you are there for them, they’ll love you. If you’re not, you’ll lose their business.”

If Stewart only read the dust cover blurb, he’d do better than he did at yesterday’s shareholder meeting…. Maybe it is time for him to go.

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