PROFILE

Andrew Blatherwick

Chairman Emeritus, 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.
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  • Posted on: 09/18/2019

    Retailers approach tech’s cutting edge with caution

    Many retailers today are reluctant to invest in new technology and sweat their current assets because they are concerned about the threat of online and/or protecting their profitability. The new technologies are still to be proven and most retailers do not like to be on the bleeding edge of technology. Frankly, they need to get their core technology up-to-date before they start to think they can take a run at some of the more advanced future technologies. The larger retailers will always push the boundaries first. They will then either benefit from the advantages gained or write off the costs which smaller retailers can ill afford. Getting the basics right must always be the first priority. If they can’t get their inventory accurate or prices right then to move forward to robotics will only cause more distress and pain, and will not solve their issues. If a retailer is already at peak performance, then it is right to look for the next possible improvement and some of the new technologies undoubtedly will give them a competitive advantage. However, if they do not have the basics right then they should not rush down this route first.
  • Posted on: 09/12/2019

    Is Amazon Go heading for a hard stop?

    RFID has been around for a long time. It was going to be THE game changer in retail technology but has still not become commercially viable and practical even though recent advances in tag reading technology are very effective. The problem is that the number of customer and product movements is very large and fast moving in grocery and related channels. Is it worth the massive investment in development? Would the technology transform customers' satisfaction and change their allegiance to a retail brand or do customers enjoy some form of contact in-store? Self-service checkouts have proved popular in smaller stores and even for smaller baskets in larger stores but have not replaced the checkout. RFID will move this process forward once the cost of tags enables their use in lower price grocery items but where next? I recently used a self-checkout at my local grocery store only to find it still open from the last customer. The retail assistant simply said "oh that's another one who has walked off without paying." I for one am not happy paying more for my groceries because a number, and potentially growing number, decide to walk off without paying.
  • Posted on: 08/21/2019

    Organizational culture shapes digital transformation

    There is no doubt that organizational culture shapes all IT transformation. If the technology is not wholeheartedly welcomed and embraced by the company, then it does not get used effectively and can often be rejected in favor of the old and likely less productive practices. A lot of people do not like change and would rather stick with what they know than learn and embrace something new. It is, therefore, critical that senior management, the very top of the organization, sponsor the change. What is also critical in retail is breaking down the silos between the various departments and channels. How often have we seen retail and online businesses running separate and different technology which prevents them from providing one single brand to the consumer? Similarly, the supply chain is often suboptimal because the silos do not operate in concert and will fight for power and dominance. Merchandising and supply chain struggle for who owns the process. Store operations fighting for control over inventory or merchandising and much more. If management creates silos and worse still creates bonus schemes that drive silo thinking, then digital transformation becomes a major problem. The supply chain is what it says - a chain - and chains have links that work together to provide the best results. So let’s see retailers thinking more about chains rather than in silos.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2019

    Is technology really making stores more like the web?

    This article seems to have the whole discussion upside down. Retail has always been dynamic and has adopted technology over the years to make shopping experiences easier and more enjoyable. Think of EPOS shelf edge labelling and many other developments. They aren’t driven by trying to imitate online, it is constant development and evolution. Suggesting retail staff promoting items to buy is long gone indicates retailers are not embracing modern retail where service is becoming more and more important. And, by the way, didn’t online adapt that idea with their "buyers of this item also looked at" approach? We should not be looking at this as physical retail vs. online, as most retailers today have offerings on both channels and work very hard to maximize the opportunity and customer satisfaction. The use of technology is paramount in this and will continue to evolve with technology like robotics freeing up staff to deliver even greater levels of service. The two sides of the business constantly learn from each other and that drives innovation, therefore they will look similar and so they should if that makes consumers feel more comfortable and enhance the brand loyalty. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery after all!
  • Posted on: 08/13/2019

    Have emojis become digital’s ice breaker for consumers?

    Have the majority of people lost the ability to write or speak? We seem to be becoming an emoji world where people can only express themselves by using emojis. What a frightening thought for when people grow up and need to communicate about a serious matter and they do not have the words to express themselves. Are words unfriendly? If they are, then surely it is the person writing the words that needs to think and not the fact they are using words. I have recently been involved in a WhatsApp group supporting a seriously ill relative with the objective of the group to add support during this tough time. A number of the people in the group, I expect Gen Zers, sent most of their communication in a string of emojis, many of which I did not understand! However, what worried me more was that emojis can be misinterpreted as they may have a different meaning to different people depending on the mood they are in or what they see. This could be a dangerous trend and could create some issues for brands if they do not get it 100 percent right. I realize that this is also true with words but if they are correctly crafted and written well this should not be the case. I hope we do not all become emoji-obsessed and end up using nothing else, it will be a sad world and I dread to read the picture books that result.
  • Posted on: 08/12/2019

    Is FedEx smart to say goodbye to Amazon’s U.S. business?

    Amazon has come across one of the other 500-pound gorillas in the business world. FedEx does not need Amazon and is not prepared to let Amazon build their own logistics capability to compete with them while helping them to trade and fund this development. Is this a message some other retailers should listen to? We have seen retailers lining up to provide click and collect options for Amazon customers when they are in direct competition with Amazon. At last someone is prepared to stand up to the giant and say no, we will not continue to help you build a company to compete with us. Let’s hope more people do this in the future and gain confidence from what FedEx has done.
  • Posted on: 08/08/2019

    Has the starting point of customer journeys moved?

    With the advance of the internet, online shopping and access to information, customers are so much better informed and more aware than they used to be. This naturally changes how they shop and what "triggers" their shop. Today most people do not have needs, they have wants and choice, so what makes them buy is driven more by the experience they expect from a retailer or online e-tailer. This reverts back to what is becoming a very common theme in these pages - how do retailers create an enticing and enjoyable experience for the consumer to ensure that they want to come back, given that the need to come back is largely no longer relevant. Why is this a recurring theme? Because having a great shopping experience is the critical factor for retailer survival, especially when assortment and price can be so easily matched and checked.
  • Posted on: 08/07/2019

    Has Christmas arrived too early at Selfridges?

    Selfridges makes a big thing of the start of their Christmas offering, but this is not for all retailers. You have to remember a few important factors that make Selfridges special. They are on Oxford Street, London with one of the highest traffic flows of international tourists anywhere in the world. These people are on vacation and Christmas at this time of the year is different and special. They are a very traditional British department store, very upmarket and select so people think it is special to go in and buy at Selfridges. It is indulgent purchasing so once again Christmas is appropriate. Very few other retail outlets could carry this off successfully. However, from a supply chain point of view it is great, Selfridges gets their Christmas inventory out to its store at the quietest time of the year and before the main Christmas rush starts. This is very efficient, saving on additional resources at peak and using otherwise underutilized resources at this time of year. Many retailers would have to use the back of the shop if they were to do this now. At Selfridges they make a positive out of having it on the shop floor which is great use of space, if you have as much space as they have! When so many department stores are failing and finding life really difficult, it is wonderful to see how successful Selfridges is. Long may their success continue! It just shows what you can do if you get the right offering ... and the right service for the customers coming through your door.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2019

    Can an e-tail startup establish a physical presence using hi-tech vending units?

    This is not a new concept. Companies have tried vending machines for products in the past, often in the mobile/telecoms business. However, for an e-tailer the objective of opening brick and mortar stores is to get that vital connection with the customer, to build the brand and develop the touch point with the customer. A vending machine is not ideally suited or capable for this objective. If all they are doing is trying to get more coverage, then fine. But one would hope that their online presence would be the best way to do this. If they are just looking to pick up sales from people in the mall shopping for other things then great, I’m sure it will give them sales. Will it enhance the brand? I very much doubt it and the supply chain costs to replenish a small vending unit can be very high indeed, making it less or not-at-all profitable.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2019

    Who will seize the opportunity to turn stores into fulfillment centers?

    I’m amused that it takes Amazon buying stores and turning them into fulfillment centers to get retailers to wake up to the fact they own assets that can help them beat Amazon on delivery speed and cost of distribution by making a truly local fulfillment. It is almost as if everyone is sitting waiting to see what Amazon will do and then copy them! Retailers have used stores as fulfillment centers for many years. In fact, when online first started many retailers used this as their only way of fulfilling orders. The real challenge for many retailers is that their inventory management is not good enough to manage store demand forecasting as well as online forecasting by geography to ensure that they have the right inventory in the stores without throwing very large volumes of stock at the problem. Technology has moved on from this point and removed this issue. Retailers have the space and the people, and are already well ahead of Amazon in this respect, so all they need is to look at their technology and move quickly before they yield yet more ground to Amazon.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2019

    Has eBay created a viable alternative to Fulfillment by Amazon?

    This move by eBay is evidence of the change in supply chain and logistics dynamics and the number of companies circling the Amazon business. Third-party logistics businesses have been slow to react to Amazon, which at the end of the day is a supply chain and logistics business. Yes it was created by technology and the online front end, but it is the delivery capability that has enabled it to become the dominant player it is. eBay is in a position to take this battle on and not only enhance their own brand but also fill the void left by those slow logistics companies. Will eBay be able to step up and deliver their promise? Time will tell, but they have the contacts with companies selling online, they have the customer base and front end. All they are now doing is switching on the fulfillment capability to go with the rest of their business and there is no reason to believe they cannot crack that as it is not rocket science. What is interesting is that eBay has spotted that this is not about short time delivery, it is about value and therefore ultimately cost and price. Many suppliers will be attracted by the opportunity of better value logistics as they do not gain anything from shorter and shorter delivery promises. This could be the first time that a company has stated their aim and may give Amazon something new to think about. The winner in all this has to be the consumer- better choice, better prices and hopefully better service as well.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2019

    Walmart shakes things up, further integrating online and physical store teams

    It is a great move by Walmart to integrate their supply chain and store operation across the business. Removing any silos in retail is vital to be able to move forward into the new era of efficiency and sustainability. Why would you want two parts of your business competing with each other, especially when you need them to utilize the same resources? However, not also integrating the merchandise area will add pressure on the efficiency of the supply chain. With two silos trying to get the best inventory, delivery and service level for their customers, the supply chain team will have to become the arbiters of who gets priority. We have already seen retailers ring fencing inventory, starving stores to maximize online availability and late clearance due to mixed priorities. How will keeping two merchandise functions remove those inefficiencies? How will the supply chain team manage the pressure from both sides who will presumably be targeted and rewarded on the success of only their part of the business? Total integration is the only way to truly maximize the efficiency and operations of the retail business. Any partial integration leaves the business open to sub-optimal performance and internal politics.
  • Posted on: 07/19/2019

    New concept turns retail store into a theatrical experience

    This is great to see - a retailer with some inventive ideas - and while this concept would be difficult to replicate in large numbers it is a great showpiece and also a great indicator of the direction of travel for retailers that want to change the face of modern retailing. If we put that into the everyday world, why not have more cookery theaters in food stores where chefs demonstrate recipes? We know that when items appear on TV cooking shows there is an increase in sales, so why not do that in-store? Apple has mastered the art of making retail fun by providing product to play with in-store. It does not have to go to this extreme, though it is great to see, but retailers need to do something to engage customers and bring back the magic of making shopping fun.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2019

    What makes great retail leaders?

    The attributes of great retail leaders can be applied to all industries and all good leaders, however some of them are particularly important in the retail environment. Great communicators, positive culture creators and nurturers of other great leaders would be applicable everywhere. The strength of flexible working practices, teamwork - especially of the sales team - and understanding of marketing dynamics are particularly important in a retail environment. Staff in retail are so often undervalued. They are expected to transition and move on frequently with little loyalty. This can make the retail operations very expensive and ineffective as the company is constantly having to train new staff and build the culture they want in their business. If staff are well looked after from the start, you can make a difference and break the cycle of retail staff constantly moving on. Yes, you will always get the students and holiday cover staff who are transitory, but the core staff can be retained which really delivers benefits for the company. So why do so many retail CEOs undervalue their store staff? They do not spend enough time with them, thinking that if they get the rest of the business right the staff are incidental. Well, ask customers if that is the case. How often do you walk away from a retail store because the staff are not happy, helpful and enthusiastic? This survey should be read and valued by all CEOs and they must take notice of what makes staff happy.
  • Posted on: 07/11/2019

    Crate and Barrel takes the feed them and they will come approach

    This is yet another example of creating an experience within the shop to increase or hold customer numbers. In Crate & Barrel's case, it makes perfect sense as they can showcase their products at the same time as providing that experience. However, retail brands do need to be sure that their offering reflects and supports the brand image they wish to portray. The quality has to match the customer aspirations or exceed it. The cleanliness and presentation similarly has to represent the brand and the value or price needs to be in line with the brand or people will feel ripped off. If a retailer can get all these things right, then this is a great move and can help them survive and prosper. It’s not easy to move into a space that you do not understand and make it work. A key question is how will the foodservice industry react to all these new competitors? Online hits retailers, retailers hit restaurants, what comes next?

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