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: 07/17/2018

    Walmart and Microsoft team up to slow Amazon’s roll

    It seems that Amazon is driving major retailers to find new partners that can help them to stay competitive. Why would any retailer want to work with Amazon who are becoming their major competitor? It would be like feeding the hand that bites you. This five year agreement therefore makes perfect sense for both companies, and I would have to say all retailers, as it will provide more competition to Amazon, deliver benefits to the whole retail sector over time and hopefully drive faster change in retail technology. What it does show is that retailers like Walmart have realized that they have to embrace technology and change to be able to keep up the fight. Amazon is a technology company and is gaining significant advantage by being at the forefront of technology development. Retailers have to spend more in this area to survive and prosper, not bunker down in the hope that reducing costs will enable them to survive. Is Microsoft the complete answer? No it is not, Walmart knows that it is one part of the answer around which they can build expert solutions that will enable them to be more efficient, intelligent and customer focused which ultimately will lead to being more competitive. If other retailers look at this as a risk then they are right -- if they do not respond and understand why Walmart are making this move. Technology will provide them with a more even playing field and one that if embraced fully could just save their business.
  • Posted on: 07/09/2018

    Is real-time order tracking becoming table stakes for e-tailers?

    The supply chain has long been a competitive landscape and with ever-increasing online sales it has taken on a new dimension. Customers do want good quality reliable service first. Even though we are a "now" society they would prefer quality rather than speed. Yes, everyone likes the convenience of same-day or next-day delivery but not if the cost of that is lost or damaged deliveries. The cost of providing a very fast service is high, to keep prices low or even offer free delivery companies will squeeze the delivery company on cost and that will inevitably lead to quality issues. This is still an immature market and companies are all trying to find the best way to deliver on their promise and offer the best options for customers. I have argued in the past that much of the problem lies with marketing people dreaming up ever faster, cheaper or more intricate delivery promises for the consumer, much of which is not really wanted until it is offered. Tracking of deliveries will fall into the same arena -- very few people care where their purchase is located on a truck, what they want to know is where it is and when will it be delivered to the right house at the right time. Anything beyond this for all but a very few special items is irrelevant and will be just another marketing trend rather than adding value to the customer experience. That said, tracking of deliveries will become the norm and retailers or delivery companies not able to offer this service will lose out. Until the revolution when price starts to rear its ugly head again and some online value operators start to fight back with no-frills low price offerings; then the fun starts!
  • Posted on: 06/29/2018

    Kroger to deliver groceries using driverless cars

    The thought of driverless delivery vehicles charging all over our overcrowded streets is not only frightening, it could create a backlash from consumers. Technologically this is very smart, and I am sure that you can build a business case for the development. However, when those consumers start to lose their jobs because of this sort of technology they will realize that this is not great for everyone. People need jobs to be able to afford to live and taking away even these types of jobs will ultimately impact the population's ability to shop and buy from the retailers online or at the store. As the first in the market you could be faced with the prospect of consumers campaigning against your business, particularly if, as expected, the robotics industry drives to replace warehouse workers, factory workers and who knows who else. How far are we from social reaction to these developments? In RetailWire again today there is talk of robots flipping burgers, just another in a long line of developments that is growing in speed and in the impact it has on the human population.
  • Posted on: 06/26/2018

    Analyst: Prime perk could eventually double customers at Whole Foods

    I am sure with the number of customers on Amazon Prime they are a Prime target for Whole Foods to increase their customer base. However, is offering further discount on sale items the right strategy? Surely if the offers they have on sale items are appealing enough to get people to buy more of those, items they do not need to give further discounts on these items. They would be more productive offering special discounts on none sale items that are not available to other customers to drive traffic. This would be a bigger benefit to customers, safeguard Whole Foods's margins on sale items and provide an additional reason to visit a Whole Foods store.
  • Posted on: 06/25/2018

    Dollar General pilots scan & go tech

    The scan & go terminals are great for customers and lower the cost of cashiers for retailers. It’s a great idea until some savvy shoppers catch onto the fact that they can scan cheaper items and take more expensive ones home provided they are same weight. In recent months, U.K. supermarkets using these systems have found that they are selling massive quantities of carrots, in fact more than they have ever bought, while avocados are not selling so well yet they never have enough and certainly none left at the end of the day. Scan the carrot and take home the way more expensive avocado, seems like a great deal for the shopper but not for the supermarket. It certainly makes a mess of store inventory, forecasting and replenishment! There have to be built-in checks to ensure that customers do not gain an upper hand and eventually this becomes an epidemic. Most customers are loyal and honest but it only takes a small percentage to damage profitability and if others see they are being affected they may also stray from the path! The rush of retailers down this road could cost the unwary very dearly.
  • Posted on: 06/22/2018

    Study: Customization becoming more commonplace

    Customization used to be the domain of the rich; handmade bespoke tailoring for suits, designer dresses and then, of course, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and other millionaires' toys. However, technology has brought about more mass-market customization which is fun, creative and makes the customer feel good. This is something that can only grow and retailers online and in-store can offer customers something different, gain closer relationships with them and therefore build loyalty. From a supply chain point of view, this can create some headaches and increase costs but if this is built into the offering then it is a great challenge to have. It could make it very difficult to manage if mass customization results in very significant volumes of customized products in the chain. Technology in the supply chain will need to develop rapidly to cope with this. 3-D printing is one way of managing the production and will add a new dimension to getting the right product in the right place at the right time! This is a premium offering and will carry a premium price as it adds complexity and cost to the operation, but the level of price premium is falling and will continue to do so resulting in higher volumes and more customers demanding this sort of service. Will it ever replace value mass production and movement? Unlikely but watch this space as technology is moving fast.
  • Posted on: 06/11/2018

    Too many meetings and reports undercut promos

    This is a sign of retailers stopping their investments in modern software solutions which easily remove many of the complaints of retail workers and executives. There is no need for lots of manual entry, high levels of administration and manual reporting. The statement that "tools have not evolved since the 1990s” is only true of retailers that have under-invested resulting in their staff being less efficient, less happy and certainly less competitive than the ones who have invested. These complaints read like something from years ago when I was a buyer in retail. They are certainly not heard in companies I work with today. The retail environment has been tough for a long time now and it is not getting any easier as all retailers are fighting each other and online retailers. They need the best solutions to help them stay ahead and unfortunately all too often stopping investment is not the answer, is it is the cause of the problems. When times are tough you need to be at your most efficient and most competitive and the only way to achieve this is to get the best solutions to help your staff operate smartly. Senior executives in retail should understand this and listen to what their staff are telling them -- the pressure of maintaining profit is one thing but it drives them out of business in the long term. It is a very dangerous route to take.
  • Posted on: 06/11/2018

    Are retailers short-changing national grocery brands?

    In the U.K., where own-brands are more developed and widely accepted, there has been a trend to proliferate rather than reduce the number and impact of store brands. In response to the reduced quality to achieve price, many large retailers have introduced premium stores brands, which are at least the equivalent of the national brands in quality. The retailers retain their existing store brands but add in the premium lines which provide choice at the expense of national brands. There is a place for both national brands and retailer brands. It is the responsibility of the brand management to provide the customer with reasons for buying their national brands, not the retailers. The retailer must ensure that their own brands are great quality and value as they carry their brand name and if they disappoint then that will reflect on the retailer in the customer's mind. Store brands are often manufactured in the same factory to the same specification as national brands, it is marketing perception that drives customers to feel they are different. That is not always the case but often so. Retailers are now becoming innovators in their own right rather than just copying the national brands. This is good for consumers as it increases choice. There is a place for both on the grocer’s shelves, and one would not survive without the other in today's market. The greatest threat for grocers is the discount retailers, which stock secondary and tertiary brands at very low prices. Savvy shoppers now shop at these and full-scale grocers to get their spread of everyday items and more pleasurable treats.
  • Posted on: 06/08/2018

    Is AI the key to legacy brands’ revitalization?

    It is great that legacy brands like Cosabella are using data mining tools to identify trends and assess the success of different marketing initiatives that I am sure would pay dividends for many similar brands heading directly to the consumer. However, this is not AI. It may be sold as such because it enables consultants and software companies to charge more but it is not AI. Machine learning is about understanding what is happening and automatically making changes to the activities and decisions made without having to rely on human intervention. What has been described here is data mining unless there is much more to it than explained here. I am not making this point to be smart, but because there is a huge amount of confusion around AI and many companies are stating that they will not take a particular solution unless it has AI without understanding what they actually mean. As said, it is a way of upping the price, the consultancy rates on projects, and for many software companies how to inflate your PE. Please let’s get some fact and quality discussion on AI which is immensely powerful as used in supply chain optimization and other areas, but let’s not confuse it with data mining.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2018

    Neiman Marcus results show the latest sign of department store life

    It is great to see some department stores starting to get their act together and perform well. All too often recently we have heard of the demise of the department store. Only today in the UK, House of Fraser announced the closure of more than half its locations stating that life was really difficult for department stores in this online world. Clearly that is not the case across the board, it is a lack of dynamism and innovation that is causing certain department stores to decline while Neiman Marcus and others, like John Lewis in the UK, buck that trend. Department stores are large spaces and need to stay relevant to the modern consumer to thrive. There are a lot of exciting new retail developments and brands that are looking for high quality space. These two are synergistic and the department stores can help themselves and the new startups by linking up and creating exciting spaces to shop. For a department store to go down the discount route is surely to misunderstand your consumer, they are not discount stores and people go there for quality, innovation and style. Let’s stop talking about the death of these once great retailers and celebrate what some are doing. It is too easy for management to blame the current trends in the market. We are seeing that some can make this work, so try harder and get out there and work for the big bucks that are being paid to run these once great companies.
  • Posted on: 05/30/2018

    Best Buy finds more inventory on hand drives sales

    It is amazing that it takes a major retailer seemingly by surprise that good inventory management has a positive effect on sales and their net promoter scores. However, what is slightly worrying is that they have increased their inventory 9 percent to enable this result. Does this mean that they had reduced inventory to such a level that it was adversely impacting sales because the service level was so poor or were they doing a poor job in the past and had the wrong inventory in each store? Inventory management systems deliver a bigger return on investment than any other IT investment and if you get the right solution it can transform a retailer’s business, yes even an efficient one. Having a modern supply chain optimization solution provides customers with high levels of satisfaction because they get the right products when they want them, with so much choice online and competitive retail a poor service level will ensure that customers vote with their feet and shop elsewhere, not just once but from then on. Congratulations to Best Buy in using the supply chain as a competitive edge, how long will it take some of the other major retailers to understand this?
  • Posted on: 05/24/2018

    Kroger to become meal kit force with Home Chef deal

    The increase of meal kits reflects the drive for convenience and speed, much like shopping online rather than wandering around a store. People are increasingly looking for convenience and to remove the burden of "what to cook tonight." There is also another element to this trend -- it gives the retailer a chance to get customers to try new things, include new ideas and then drive repeat purchase of these items in-store. Allowing customers to be more adventurous without the risk of failure can add value to the retail experience and customer loyalty, and also lead to additional sales of higher margin none-core items, provided the retailer thinks that way and looks at their marketing, in-store display, inventory and signage. If coordinated properly this can be powerful. Grocery shopping is not seen as enjoyable and anything a grocer can do to add some fun back into the process is good news. By buying Home Chef, Kroger can short circuit the process and lead in this area. They must ensure that they make the most out of this acquisition and do not just see it as added revenue from meal kit sales.
  • Posted on: 05/24/2018

    Is excess space behind retail’s shrink and customer experience problems?

    America is undoubtedly over-stored -- it has excess capacity and many retailers have too large stores for the new world. However, to say they should simply shed that excess is easier said than done. Property owners are not falling over themselves to take back space because the cost of restructuring real estate can be large, as seen from Marks & Spencer's results out earlier today. It is a long haul and one that needs to be thought through carefully. Another option is to look at the space and see if there are alternative uses rather than try and dispose of it. There are many new start-up retailers that may be interested in taking space in a well-run store that will take away the burden of space. Also, it’s true that staffing becomes an issue however retailers do not always look at their traffic flows or customer needs when they schedule their staff. Getting staffing right is another part of the equation, it is not the answer to the overcapacity problem in the U.S., but it is one that each retailer needs to address.
  • Posted on: 05/23/2018

    New organic grocery concept is an educational experience

    Retail is becoming more about theater and providing the customer with a great experience. Educating people about organic food is just one part of that. Now that the retail mix has this additional element, making sure they are great quality and fresh is vital. Having products on-shelf in the right place and at peak freshness can be a challenge, one that technology is helping in a lot of fresh food and grocery outlets. This helps deliver an experience that will bring customers back, something that will differentiate the physical retailers from digital ones and is a key ingredient for success. This is a great initiative and one that many more retailers will be following in the coming years.
  • Posted on: 05/23/2018

    Lessons in goodwill and the power of feelings

    There is no doubt that making people feel good when they are at your store is positive for business and that human connection is something the Internet cannot compete with, which gives retailers the opportunity to build a really strong connection with their customer base. Some online retailers are already opening shops to enable them to connect to their customers. Getting the right and best people on the shop floor when the most customers are in the store is very important. Companies like Storeforce have created value-added solutions that do not just schedule people but monitor people's performance and ensure that you schedule the very best people on the shop floor at the busiest times. They also have programs to drive good customer-centric behavior to ensure that all store staff are focused on customer service. Staff members are one of our most important assets so let’s use them wisely and not just expect that they will all perform the same, there are great customer service employees and some not so good so get the right ones in front of your customers at the right time.

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