Andrew Blatherwick

Chairman, Relex Solutions
Andrew Blatherwick joined leading UK and International retailer Boots in 1977 rising to become Group Product Manager Foods before moving on to frozen foods retailer Iceland where he spent ten years, the last five years as Supply Chain Director. He joined inventory management systems company E3 Corporation as International President in 1995 and drove the business forward so that at the time of its acquisition in 2001 it had more than 500 retail and wholesale customers in 20 different countries. Andrew served as President of JDA International before joining Manchester-based Alphameric Retail as Managing Director where he helped reverse the business’s decline. He’s since brought his business development expertise to CoreProcess International (as Group CEO), Argility (as Executive Director – International Business Development), Manthan Systems (as President of Manthan Systems Europe) and is currently CEO at business consultancy A2B4P. He advises a select stable of companies in a non executive capacity focusing on business development and change management.
  • Posted on: 01/23/2019

    What will it take to dramatically reduce risk in the retail supply chains?

    The supply chain has always been central to the success of any retail operation, however the importance has increased dramatically over the last 10 years as pressures on retailers from online and socio-economic factors have increased the need to make it as efficient as possible. The good news is that supply chain solutions are now significantly more sophisticated and capable of managing this pressure and providing the ability to understand what is actually happening, react to it quickly and maintain efficiency while improving customer availability and visibility. The ability to run "what-if" scenarios helps retailers understand the impact and how best to react to changes such as volatility, supplier issues, weather, promotional activity and international political changes. This is invaluable to ensuring the retailer stays on track. For drugs and short life products, special features are available to track and trace, forecast and manage within day deliveries down to individual ranges in each store. Retailers need to invest in the latest technology, especially now with a downturn possible. Most are still running old technology that does not allow any of these features. The ones that do invest will succeed; the ones who try to reduce investment and sweat their IT assets will lose and it will cost them dearly.
  • Posted on: 01/22/2019

    Can grocers sell produce without plastic bags and boxes?

    Is this really a question? Have Millennials never seen a grocer on the High Street? It was the retail chains which put the produce into plastic in the first place to make it easier for their supply chain and store staff. Customers trust retailers like Marks and Spencer not to display out of date or poor quality produce, other retailers will have to get their act together and make their supply chain capable of handling these items correctly. This is not a consumer problem.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2019

    Did regional constraints doom Shopko?

    As a regional retailer, you have to look at your strengths and how you can compete against other national retailers and online. To just say that you failed because of e-commerce reducing traffic and national retailers getting better prices shows you did not manage your business that well. However, in this case, there is one justifiable additional problem -- lack of investment by the private equity company. To really compete, regional retailers must be very efficient, have great supply chains, knowledge of what sells and how local items can differentiate the stores. The lack of investment in modern IT solutions that can help the retailer be more focused, smarter and efficient allowing them to mitigate the advantages held by national retailers will bring the regional retailer down every time.
  • Posted on: 01/07/2019

    What can IoT really do for retailers?

    I am really surprised that the research shows retailers looking for IoT to solve their problems with visibility, accuracy of inventory and with customer service. Is this a lack of understanding of the IoT or just retailers hoping that some magic will happen to solve their problems? There are IT solutions today that can solve these problems for all retailers and many of the “Winners” either have or are in the process of implementing the latest state of the art solutions to achieve this. It does not require some magic IoT development, just the simple investment in IT.
  • Posted on: 01/07/2019

    Will AI, tariffs or some other news be the big retailing story of 2019?

    The death of the high street seems to be past us and now predictions are more about the rebirth of the high street led by on line retailers opening stores or finally a realization that retailers can complete, if they get their offering and service right. Understanding customer behavior is undoubtedly one of the main factors that will help all retailers move forward, developing a closer relationship with your customers and surprise giving them what they want in a customer friendly manner will be high on the agenda for retailers. It was ever thus and hopefully retailers will understand that stopping all investment like deer in the headlights will not solve their competitive problems. They need to take charge of their business and create an interesting exciting and customer focused environment in which to shop.
  • Posted on: 12/18/2018

    Who will win the battle for holiday gift procrastinators?

    All the planning in the world will not help retailers with the last-minute shopping rush if they do not get their inventory management right. The last thing people want is to be promised or offered a last-minute purchase that is then out-of-stock, all that does is create customer resentment. Often at this time of year the winners are the retailers who have the right items still available; price is no longer an issue it is just having the stock available. The tendency is to look at not having stock left after Christmas, this can lead to valuable sales lost at this crucial time. Getting you forecasts right and stock available can make the difference between an okay year and a good year. The last week and last few days are critical as such a large proportion of business is still to come.
  • Posted on: 12/04/2018

    Walmart gives associates a tool to deal with out-of-stocks

    If the Walmart app really is to compensate for out-of-stocks then they are missing the point. Solve the out-of-stock problem, do not put a Band-Aid over it with apps like this. The number of Walmart associates on the shop floor would not solve this problem as customers will get even more frustrated trying to find someone to help them, and then they have to wait to get the product delivered home or to the store for collection! What sort of customer service is that? Out-of-stocks in-store should not be a major problem if they have the right inventory management solutions to improve their availability. For the largest retailer in the world to be implementing an app to solve that problem is a very sad state of affairs. If they are creating an endless aisle app that enable items not stocked at that store then that is a step forward, but it is hardly news as many retailers already have such facilities. Surely there are bigger improvements in retail to talk about than this.
  • Posted on: 11/13/2018

    Walmart puts AI to the test in an in-store lab

    I am very surprised that Walmart looking to test AI to improve inventory and on shelf availability is making the news. AI or more accurately machine learning has been a part of state of the art inventory management and merchandising systems for a while now; it is only that the consultants have jumped on AI as their next big payday that it has become the topic of every retail conversation. Machine learning is key in improving forecasting for promotions, weather related items and, particularly in fresh and short life products, improving availability whilst reducing shrink and waste. Yes, there are constant developments being made and the rapid improvement in RFID accuracy is helping to drive further improvements in the supply chain, the more accurate the data the better the analytics leading to better results. The advent of robotics will be another possible step forward and there are some exciting new developments in this area, some good and some not so good. But to claim that Walmart is of ahead of the game in using AI for inventory management and on shelf availability is missing so much great stuff that is already out there and available to all retailers. They just need to invest in modern state of the art solutions and not sit on their old legacy solutions.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2018

    What are the omnichannel challenges facing e-tailers opening stores?

    Traditional retailers have worked hard to understand the online business and overcome the challenges of running a multi-channel business. Now that we see the e-retailers going the other way and opening physical stores, this is not going to be easy for them either. In fact I believe it will be far harder for them to understand and master traditional retail than moving in the other direction. The discipline, supply chain challenges and people management of store staff are all very tough new skills to learn. Just the fact of getting the inventory right is totally different in traditional retail. You cannot just pull the item off the site, you have space for it in store and customers expect to be able to see and purchase it. Managing ordering from or for a number of stores takes their technology skills into a new area, they will have to get up to speed very quickly. Yes, they are growing slowly but customer expectation is there based on their online brand -- they risk damaging that if they get it wrong in stores.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2018

    Did Amazon just crush Target and Walmart’s free holiday shipping moves?

    Amazon have had to react to Walmart and Target as free delivery is such an important driver to online shopping. However, where does this leave Prime customers who are currently paying for this privilege? I know Amazon says they will still have the opportunity to get same-day, next-day or two-day delivery but that does not seem to be the main driver. Retailers are beginning to get to Amazon and this is going to become a battle of the strongest and who can withstand the additional cost of this the longest. It is unlikely that they will all drop this after Christmas if they feel it offers a major advantage, Free shipping represents a high cost so only the big players will be able to sustain this.
  • Posted on: 11/02/2018

    Walmart reimagines its big boxes as town centers

    This is a major move by Walmart to utilize its big box sites for modern shopping requirements and should be applauded. Shoppers today are looking for more individual, interesting and entertaining shopping experiences rather than just one massive retail offering. Given the developments of the Walmart online business where they are becoming a platform for smaller more exciting retailers, is this what they are looking for to replicate in physical store locations? If so, all is well. Walmart is right on track with this idea and while it will evolve and change in content, this is certainly the first truly imaginative move from the big box operators. Well done and I will watch with interest to see how it develops. We also hear today that landlords are happy that Sears filing for bankruptcy may give them the opportunity to regain some space in their shopping centers to redevelop. This sounds like they are chiming from the same bell. They will have the chance to bring in some new exciting and ultimately more entertaining retail offerings that will attract the flow of people back into their centers. It looks like we have a trend developing very quickly here.
  • Posted on: 11/01/2018

    Will Albertsons have robots filling online grocery orders in its stores?

    Retail space is typically the most expensive space available, so why would you use it to create what is effectively a dedicated online fulfillment center? If they are co-located with stores then this must either take space away from the traditional customer-facing store or they have too much space at the moment and should look at alternatives to utilize this space. Will Albertsons move stock from store to online if they have out-of-stocks or vice versa? What if people order items that are not in stock at the fulfillment center -- will they have to go to the customer store to complete the order? There are a lot of questions as to how this will operate but the main one has to be: why would you use premium space for an activity that could be located at a cheaper location ... or is that just a European problem of expensive retail space?
  • Posted on: 10/23/2018

    Why haven’t CPG giants figured out what makes small brands so popular?

    There are two major factors that play a part in small brands becoming more popular and seeing higher growth than major CPG brands. First, the internet has opened access to startup brands that could never have hoped to get on the shelves at major retailers because they did not have the required investment in sales forces and marketing. Second, consumers are looking for their own identity moving away from the aspirational me too generation where mass market was appealing. People rarely watch TV in real time now so the massive advertising campaigns employed by the large CPG companies are less relevant. What will happen as these small CPG companies grow and become large? Will they lose their appeal? Will customers look for new brands again? One thing that is for sure is that not all brands can go direct to the public or we will not have enough room on the planet for the vans needed to make deliveries, nor the oil to keep them on the road, not to mention the damage that would do to the planet.
  • Posted on: 10/23/2018

    Will free two-day shipping from third-parties give Walmart an edge for the holidays?

    Walmart stating that they want to make the customer shopping experience easier and better is a noble cause, but is two-day free delivery a necessary part of that? Great to see that they are taking the responsibility for returns and making that part of the process easier. Customers will really appreciate that as it shows genuine drive for improvement. However, what customers want on deliveries is consistency and certainty, to make it two days and then stock out items because it is too expensive is not going to help the customer or the brand. When customers are planning their holiday purchases, getting the order in a set number of days is satisfactory as long as they know that date. Promising two-day delivery and then not getting it in time is a major backward step. The supply chain costs of reverse logistics on potentially large volumes of returned items could be interesting and the third-party traders are going to have to pick up a lot of that tab. If not, Walmart may find a hole in their profits after the holiday. Overall, this is a positive step and should be applauded.
  • Posted on: 10/17/2018

    Should ‘best by’ dates expire?

    This is surely focusing on the wrong thing, the whole idea of the wording on the packaging is to ensure that customers get the best possible quality and enjoyment from their purchase. Retailers need to improve their own supply chain operations to reduce waste and not change or blame wording for their own shortcomings. If they go down this route it is a slippery slope to selling poor-quality and even potentially dangerous foods. Good supply chain solutions can reduce waste dramatically, improving profitability for the retailer and quality for the consumer. Companies need to get it right within the business first and then see if a change in wording is needed. And don't fudge the problem by removing these valuable labels.

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