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IRC 2014 INTERVIEW Robin Phillips of Waitrose

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Ahead of this year’s Internet Retailing Conference (IRC 2014), we’re running a series of interviews in which we hear from some of the industry leaders taking part in this year’s event. Today we talk to Robin Phillips, director of ecommerce at Waitrose .

Internet Retailing: At IRC 2014, you’re speaking about how Waitrose is developing its shopping experience. What is your understanding of Waitrose’s customers and what they demand from the supermarket?

Robin Phillips, director of ecommerce at Waitrose: One thing to remember is that not all Waitrose shopping missions are for entire weekly shops, but are top-up shopping missions, and therefore our customers have very different priorities. By definition when someone starts shopping online with us they’re doing a weekly shop or a full grocery shop, but not all of our customers have not all had that experience in Waitrose branches before.

This is an extra mission that the brand hasn’t had before – and that’s why it’s so important. Of course what they’re expecting is a Waitrose experience online. What that means is how do you get that warmth and authenticity across online? How do we bring together the online and physical store experience really compellingly but in a way that seems simple seamless and smart to customers? If you look at our website it looks different from those of our competitors.

Customers come to us because we’re very well known for our service and the quality of key products, such as meat. Our fresh offering is also particularly important: fish, cheese, delicatessen. We’re looking to show that you can do both in a really easy way, both in a weekly [online] shop with Waitrose as well as coming into the store and meeting the partners, from the fish specialist to the wine specialist. We’re not looking to replace the store mission with the online mission but for the two to be complementary.

At the moment the online shopper tends to be a little bit younger than those who typically shop in-store. We particularly see mums but also families where the kids have started to move on a bit or leave home so they have more time for inspiration, to cook, and so on. The online message we’re trying to get across is that they can feed their families as well as having an increasingly relevant range of baby products. We’re making Waitrose into a destination which would suit customers aged from 20 to 70, not just the 40 to 70 group that perhaps previously the more traditional Waitrose customer comes from.

Internet Retailing: What’s the role of inspiration in the Waitrose customer experience?

Robin Phillips: I think it’s really important. For example with talent such as Heston [Blumenthal] and the creativity he brings to exclusive Waitrose ranges; people come to the store to get that level of quality. What we’re trying to do online is combine those things together. A good example would be cakes and obviously there’s a lot of interest in home baking. So we’re increasingly looking to merchandise that part of the website, so customers can shop the ingredients for what’s made on the Great British Bake Off. We’ll assemble the ingredients and bundle them together. But we also offer a super range of cakes and we’re looking to work with experts such as Fiona Cairns and show videos of her putting cakes together with advice and tops, giving a sense of the quality and care that’s gone into making a very elaborate centrepiece for a special occasion.

In the wine department, we’ve concentrated on showing how the branch can complement online and vice versa. We’ve about 1,500 lines of wine available online through our specialist wine website,, but we can only get 4-500 into our largest stores. We bring to life an extended range beyond that by equipping our partners and shoppers in branch with a tool that helps give easy access and makes recommendations. Partners can arrange online purchase to collect in store, give help in terms of choosing wine for a dinner party or special occasion, or to match a particular food, and show what’s coming up for an offer that week. We’re trying to make it feel like an integrated experience between the channels.

Internet Retailing: What do you most like about Waitrose’s digital innovations?

Robin Phillips: I think it’s about making innovation part of a seamless journey, one that is a welcome and wanted experience. It’s now possible to geofence the store, to geolocate the customer outside the store, uniquely identify who the customer is and where they are when they visit the store, and perhaps present them with offers. In the near future it will be possible in near future to allow automatic checkout to shoppers who scan and pay with their own device.

Shoppers may want to choose different experiences depending on their needs and mood. If they’re in a convenience store, on the run back home and want to get an evening meal they may want a totally convenient experience, scanning products, checking out and walking out of store. At the weekend you might be in a completely different state of mind and want to meet a friend, have a coffee, look for inspiration, or present our different offers to a friend at a dinner party.

We need to cater for both those mood states and the technology needs to enable that without getting in the way or feeling intrusive.

So while I quite like the idea of geolocation, geofencing and using beacons to microlocate instore sessions, it has to be something which the customer wants. I think the really important thing is to give the customer a choice at any one point to do that.

Internet Retailing: What are you looking forward to most at IRC 2014 beyond Waitrose’s presentation?

Robin Phillips: Hearing what everyone else has to say. There are some really fantastic speakers. I don’t get to many conferences but I’m definitely going to this one to look at who’s at the cutting edge of innovation, what new ideas we should be thinking about and how other retailers are tackling the things I just talked about.

Everyone’s got an increasing amount of data available to them but the trick is how to deploy that and provide an experience to the customer that’s personalised and relevant and reflects the brand. That’s my biggest challenge in the job that I’ve got: how do I make feel even more like Waitrose than the branches do? How does it feel when I check into myWaitrose and there’s everything I want to have in terms of my relationship with Waitrose on my own personal account?

Waitrose’s presentation will be in Track One, the Tide stream, at IRC 2014. His presentation, Seamlessly integrating the inspirational and transactional, will be at 15.55. The ecommerce and multichannel retailing event focuses on the theme of Refoundationing and takes place on October 14 at the Novotel Hammersmith.

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