NRF from a Distance

The NRF is a big show in New York; well it’s the biggest of its kind in fact which is why so many retail technology folk go there.  

I couldn’t be there – but I contributed this piece to Retail Week.

At an event designed to grab headlines with the latest developments, it’s important to try to pick out the trends that consumers will actually want to use – rather than those that simply look good – and which will therefore provide a genuine return.

It is doubly difficult if you couldn’t make the event so have to do this remotely as I have had to do this year. However, that’s the position for most retailers on this side of the Atlantic – so here goes.

We live in the most exciting time for retail technology, and one of the best elements of my job is looking at these emerging technologies and picking the ones that will genuinely resonate with customers. The key here is to focus on the customer. There was a lot of talk about how retailers should cherry pick the best of suppliers’ technology for their own use. You can probably get a long way with this approach, but the way John Lewis likes to work with suppliers is to integrate them into our vision for our proposition and customer experience.

At present we are testing transactional tablets in our shops, and while seeing mobile devices in shops is far from being new, we believe the technology we’re using to integrate our electronic point of sale, stock and personnel systems, is the first of its kind at scale on the high street. It’s a beta technology that we developed on our supplier’s platform, so we have developed it to our spec, and we are now fine-tuning how it will work with our partners and our customers in our shops.

Foot Locker boss Ken Hicks’ views have been distilled down into the idea of using shops as warehouses, but you’ll never see John Lewis taking this approach. Our beautiful shops are at the centre of our omnichannel strategy. We want our customers to love shopping with us, we have passionate and informed partners who can help and advise customers. So absolutely our stores and more than 250 Waitrose supermarkets are vital as click-and-collect points, but we want people to stay and have a wonderful in-store experience when they collect an online order.

We have beauty spas and great places to eat in our shops and we are constantly looking for ways to use technology to enhance the shopping experience. We know that about two-thirds of our customers shop across our stores, call centres, web and mobile sites, and our Christmas sales figures show omnichannel works – in the five weeks to the December 28 we saw online sales grow 22.6% and store sales grow by 1.2%.

People obsess about whether the sale was made in the shop or online, but that’s just where the payment was made. The shopping experience was most likely across channels.

Whatever tech we use to achieve it, the basics remain the same. Spedan Lewis, the founder of John Lewis, talked about VAST – value, assortment, service and trust. Your values, and how you deliver them to customers, are what matters.

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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