Adapting to change is key to success: Exclusive interview with Marks & Spencer Mena general manager Nick Batey

As Marks & Spencer celebrates 25 years in the Middle East, ME Retail News sits down with the Mena region’s general manager, Nick Batey, to learn more about the iconic British brand, the company’s expansion plans and how it’s embracing the digital era.

“Marks & Spencer has an amazing story,” Nick Batey begins.

The company started operations in 1884 as a Penny Bazaar in Leeds, where “customers didn’t need to ask the price, as everything was one penny”, he says. 

“This is something still embedded in the brand’s DNA to make sure we always offer customers great value for money.”

Mr Batey, who describes himself as “a retailer through and through”, kick-started his career by working in his local M&S store in the UK. A role that he remembers fondly.

“That job gave me a grounding to always remember what it’s like for our store team members who are servicing customers every day,” he says.

“Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to work all over the world, from Spain to France to Hong Kong. I came to Dubai in 2015 and settled here, invigorated by all of the opportunities the region has to offer.”

Promoting a traditional British brand in a Middle Eastern, multicultural market is not without its challenges.

“We’re proud to be a British brand that brings value and quality to customers across our clothing and food ranges that truly offers something for everyone.

“We understand there are nuances, though, and our customers have different needs, so we work hard to ensure we have a tailored range of products relevant to our customers’ lives and listen to their feedback about what they want from us,” Mr Batey says.

“We have more than 40 stores across seven markets in the Middle East and it’s been an exciting start to 2023 returning to Sharjah after more than 10 years away with the opening of our City Centre Al Zahia store. ”

Last week, M&S opened a store in City Centre Bahrain, complete with food hall and cafe.

“We’re always looking at the right locations to bring M&S to more customers as well as the ranges they want from us too. We’ve made a lot of investment to improve our food hall and Café offer as we heard from our customers that they want this in more locations from us,” Mr Batey says.

Mastering the digital game

Reflecting on the role of digital in retail, Mr Batey noted that tradition and advancement can complement each other.

“Digital plays a huge role in our business, from improving efficiencies for our in-store teams to enhancing the customer experience,” he says.

“A great example of this has been utilising digital propositions so our customers can get their favourite high-quality and delicious food items delivered straight to their door – even faster.

“We’ve also introduced self-checkout counters at selected stores, first with food and now with clothing for a frictionless checkout experience. We also use digital screens in-store to help inspire customers around our ranges and are constantly looking into how we use digital to offer a better shopping experience.”

Mr Batey said that in the past few years, the brand has gone to great lengths to integrate the latest technological advancements.

“We’ve invested in future-proofing our systems, such as Radio Frequency Identification technology in our clothing and home inventory. This means accurate stock and availability of our products for our customers and we’re currently in the process of rolling this technology out across all departments with the aim of becoming a full RFID retailer by 2024.

“Alongside this, we’re exploring the latest tech-enables solutions to optimise our inventory management and customer touchpoints, enabling us to strengthen our supply chain.”

Supporting people and the planet

Sustainability is also top of mind for Mr Batey. In 2021, M&S reinvigorated its approach to the environment, striving to become a net zero business by 2040.

“M&S has been active in the sustainability space since 2007 when it first launched its Plan A program. This is a commitment to supporting people, and our planet and sourcing products with care,” says Mr Batey.

“Some examples of recent initiatives include the ‘Bags for Life’ we offer across our food halls that use 100 per cent recycled materials, and a small charge for single-use plastic bags. Alongside this we ask customers to bring a reusable bag when shopping.” 

But the initiatives don’t stop there.

The company adopts a separate approach for every region  – there is always room for creativity when it comes to helping nature. Across its stores in Egypt and the UAE, specifically, the company focuses on recycling unwanted hangers, intending to standardise the practice across all Middle East branches. “For 2023, we’re focusing on decreasing waste across our food supply chain and in turn helping to lower our carbon footprint,” Mr Batey says. 

A quality experience

Adapting to change is the key to success, Mr Batey says.

“Marks & Spencer offers customers great quality and value, always sourced with care. This applies to everything from clothing and home ranges through to food and the cafe. We know customers trust M&S to give them true value for money. 

“The work never stops at M&S, to make sure we continue to bring our customers the best value and innovative products. My teams are making sure we have the relevant collections for the whole family through to mouth-watering food with constant newness so they see something new every time they visit and of course how we keep digitalising and improving the shopping experience, so stay tuned for more updates soon.”

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