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: 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.
  • Posted on: 10/01/2018

    Is traffic a flawed measure of engagement?

    Traffic is by no means a perfect measure of the trend in awareness and strength of a brand but it is as good as the other measures we have today. Also, the importance of knowing the traffic flow by time is to manage your staffing to maximize the conversion rate of that traffic. Many retailers today still plan their staff schedules based on sales and history and not the traffic flow resulting in an imperfect schedule. If you are understaffed at certain times of the day you will not optimize sales and this leads to a continued loss of sales. The ability to manage the quality of your staff and get the very best people on the shop floor at the busiest time is crucial to getting the best results out of your stores.
  • Posted on: 10/01/2018

    Walmart expands test of pickup-only grocery store concept

    There is so much research at the moment that the data and information can be confusing and contradictory. Walmart says research shows customers prefer not to enter a store to pick up their grocery online orders, yet only a few weeks ago RetailWire reported research saying that 29 percent of consumers did not want their fresh foods picked for them. There is a danger that if we move further down this track of pickup-only stores, we will lose the opportunity to sell to customers and gain additional sales through impulse purchases that take place when a customer enters a store. I am sure there is a place for pickup-only stores but would caution that they could reduce the overall spend on groceries. There is an art to retailing that creates impulse purchases and additional sales though smart merchandising and all this is lost if the consumer does not ever enter a store.
  • Posted on: 09/27/2018

    How will AI transform the supply chain?

    There is massive hype about AI and machine learning at the moment. How many people really understand what it can deliver and how soon that will happen? The truth is that AI is not a product, it is already embedded in a number of modern supply chain optimization solutions giving much needed help in promotional analysis and forecasting, the impact of weather through regression analysis and many more functions within the process. Similarly, on the physical side, it will eventually bring about changes in robotics, moving them from simple machines to intelligent machines that will have a significantly bigger impact on the operations than at present. The evolution of all software solutions has been traveling at a very fast pace for many years and AI is just the next aspect of that development. It’s a phrase coined by the consultants to add value to their work and revenue to their companies. The real issue is companies embracing the new technologies as there has been significant underinvestment in supply chain optimization solutions in recent years, with many retailers falling behind and that is affecting their ability to stay competitive. Don't wait for that magic day when "AI is here." It is already a reality and solutions will continue to evolve and utilize AI to move forward enabling retailers to benefit from those developments. Sitting back waiting for the magic day will result in being out of business while you wait.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2018

    Hershey delivers category insights directly to retailers via tractor trailer

    It’s great to see a national brand investing in traditional retail in this way. Sharing their experience and knowledge to grow sales will certainly bring them closer to their retail partners and if they get results it will be a success. Retailers do need to ensure that they are not just getting the Hershey hard sell at the expense of other brands. That is always the fear of these things. For many retailers, obtaining this sort of insight into their own business can only be achieved by category management solutions that produce the broader picture encompassing all brands. It is difficult to give advice without the detailed individual store sales and this data may not be available to the Hershey team. However, it is a positive initiative and Hershey should be congratulated for that.
  • Posted on: 09/10/2018

    Grab and go and yadda-yadda

    It is amazing that when so many retailers are complaining about how hard it is to compete with online retailers, they do not get the basics of retail right. Good in-store availability is key and Grab and Go meal kits are hot at the moment, so you need to ensure that you have the product on the shelf to build loyalty and customer traffic on a regular repeat basis. One of the main problems with staying in-stock with these types of items is the fear of high shrinkage. Also the age of many retailers supply chain and inventory management solutions mean they lack the capability to deal with this category. Most of the older solutions can’t do forecasting at item and store level but look at store order history and use this to forecast future demand. This is useless in a fast moving environment like food and particularly so in an new growth area like Grab and Go meal kits. Every store will have a different ethnic, socio-economic, age and weather profile so one size does not fit all, you simply have to have the ability to forecast at Store SKU level and be able to use supply chain optimization to respond to the trends quickly and efficiently and maximize this business. These solutions are available and grocery retailers need to understand that to hang on to your legacy or sub optimal ERP inventory management module is not good enough if you are going to fight back and win this battle.
  • Posted on: 09/04/2018

    Walmart’s two-day shipping pledge comes with a caveat

    Once again, we see the supply chain is central and core to the success or otherwise of retailers both online and at store. It is interesting that customer expectation is more than four days for delivery, but retailers are promising two days, and if they cannot deliver that promise they "out of stock" to contain costs. Why not just deliver to the customer expectation and give them what they want? The "out of stock" policy must detract from customer satisfaction and eventually lead to a loss of business, particularly if competitors can deliver in full, even if slower. The game is changing as retailers find that their marketing message is becoming unprofitable or undeliverable, customers will vote with their feet if they constantly get shorted on items they ordered. Getting the right stock in the right geographic locations to profitably deliver in full is central to the offering and the optimization of the supply chain. As online retail matures, this is going to become the same battle ground as it has been for some time in traditional retail. Is the tail wagging the dog as in marketing people setting the impossible agenda finally beginning to change?
  • Posted on: 08/20/2018

    Are stock-up grocery trips becoming a thing of the past?

    Over recent weeks these columns have been full of grocery retailers improving their online offering and today we see that latest, and possibly most significant, move of online retailers opening stores. People are becoming ever-more savvy in the way they shop, whether it be Millennials or the Grey Dollar. All consumers are mixing and matching their shopping habits to suit their lifestyle. Most people today do not bulk buy as convenience has taken over as the prime driver. That convenience could come from online and home delivery or click and collect, or it could come from community stores. What is becoming ever more apparent is that to be successful a retailer needs to cover these forms of shopping behavior in its strategy. This is difficult for the clubs, which built their business on major shopping trips. There may be some comfort, however, as Walmart posted great results last week and a major part of their improvement came down to price. This is still a major driver and whatever other strategy and channel you operate you will ignore this at your peril.

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