Speech to the Chemistry Club Part 3: How IT is Revolutionising the Retail Industry

The same thing is now happening in Retail with John Lewis innovating customer service using technology.  We have:

  • Partner-assisted self service jl.com kiosks in the stores- these were tremendously successful during the ‘Back to School’ season where parents ordered in-store from the Internet.
  • ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ online compared to ‘Clicks and Bricks’ competitors
  • Ratings and reviews online
  • ‘Click and Collect’ – where you order online and collect from a John Lewis store – is going fantastically well, at almost double last year’s volumes
  • We have extended this to many Waitroses and by October we will have 120 ‘Collect’ sites,

So what I am seeing in Retail is what I saw in Airlines,  around 7 years ago – an explosive channel shift that is turning the whole industry inside out.

You can see the “online flood-waters” approaching categories that no-one thought would be bought online and they begin to switch.  So now on johnlewis.com a third of sales are in the fashion category.  Customers will now buy a £6,000 summer-house online and certainly no problem about £1,500 television.  Afterall we have trained everyone to buy £5k holidays online

So, what do you do about this sea-change in how customers shop – do you “fight the last war” or do you work out what the new “terms of trade are”?

We think in John Lewis that the answer is omni-channel retail.  What is John Lewis famous for:

  • VALUE – “never knowingly undersold”;
  • our ASSORTMENT – the breadth of what you can buy in Oxford Street JL or on JL.com;
  • the SERVICE – that our Partners who co-own the business bring with good advice and real care for customers;
  • and TRUST – that you know you can bring anything back you bought in John Lewis and we will replace it without fuss.

These factors: V-A-S-T – equal “VAST”, an approach devised by John Spedan Lewis, founder of the Partnership, who gave his business to its employees between the 1920s and the 1950s.

We believe that this VAST Concept is as relevant to the Retail World of 2011, as it was to 1921 and 1951!  What we have to do is to present our core values in the new multi-channel world of

  • Shops
  • Online
  • Mobile
  • International as well as UK
  • Facebook, Twitter and Blipfoto

The shopping experience of 2015 will of course be very different from the shopping experience of 2005

  • Customers will expect to try in the shop and then buy online
  • They will look online and buy in the shop
  • They will buy on their smart phone and pick up in the shop
  • They will get advice in the shop and order from the call centre
  • They will bring online orders back to the store for a refund

People will want the same service and the same products in any and indeed all channels.  You will expect our Partners to be able to look after them with the same high level of service wherever they bought the product.

So the IT Director or CIO has to be able to “join it all up”.  This is easy to say and, of course, hard to do.  BUT at least our challenge is very clear.

Now, I mentioned at the end of my list of Channels, Facebook and Twitter.  They are of course but the latest – and staggeringly successful – manifestation of the way that technology is simply very cool these days.  Thank you, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg

You have to be there in the social networks, simply because your customers are.  Any company that does not agree that social networks matter should adopt the dodo as its logo.

The original Dot.Com Revolution was one-way.  People built shops online where you bought things – they even tried to make web sites look like shops.

This Dot.Com Revolution (call it 2.0 if you like) is two-way.

  • If we get good service we want to tell our friends about it
  • If we take a great picture, we want to share it with people interested in our passions
  • If I get poor service, I am going to tell the World – the viral complaint-song “United broke my guitar” being a great example of this
  • Woe betide you if you let someone down and they post on Twitter or YouTube and it goes viral

Recently, John Lewis put up on YouTube – with links from Facebook and Twitter – our John Lewis Oxford Street designer fashion show.

Personally, I try to ‘practice what I preach’ with a Blog on WordPress; my Twitter and Blipfoto accounts – and two books published electronically and on paper on Lulu.

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

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