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IRC 2018 PREVIEW Phil Barnes of N Brown Group on planning for peak

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Ahead of InternetRetailing Conference we hear from Phil Barnes, director of supply chain at the N Brown Group. Phil will be speaking at the conference on planning for peak. 

InternetRetailing: It’s the time of year when peak trading is about to begin – how is your planning going?

Phil Barnes, director of supply chain at N Brown Group: All the plans for it have clearly been in place for a number of months, but now when you get to October 1 it’s almost upon you in that sense. We’re very excited about it for the business. It’s an opportunity to share the plans we’ve made and to get everyone to think abut what customer service looks like for this time of year. At IRC we’ll be talking about our plans for N Brown and hearing from others about their plans as well.

IR: When did you start planning for peak?

PB: We’ll take the month of January to look at how everything went from the beginning of November right through to the beginning of January: how did we go into it, come out of it, present it up to Christmas, how was the final final push up to and including the 23rd and 24th of December? How do we come out of that into the New Year – how did the sale go? It’s about sitting down towards the end of January, looking at that final 10 weeks or so, what were the pinch points along the way, how did the volume come, how did that compare to when the business expected the volume to come, how were we resourced going into that, how were we resourced going out,  how did our partners perform? How did our competition perform? Clearly like all retailers you can have the best plan but you have to be on your toes in terms of what the customers are doing, what your competitors are doing around their delivery offer, and how partners are coping with the volume.

IR: Does peak planning start with the customer?

PB: My view is that it’s become so much more about the customer than as it used to be, a channel for selling more product earlier in the season. Now it’s much more around how we want the customer to not only enjoy the benefits and the product offers themselves, but how how does it  feel to them in terms of that final mile experience. Clearly that’s become more and more important as the [online] channel has grown in the run up to Christmas as well. I think it’s changed enormously. Now so much more is about trust, how our customers interact with each of the brand, and how do we want to deliver that promise and most importantly actually deliver on that promise. I think in the past it would have been quite acceptable to make the promise and break it and not really think about what that meant to the customer, whereas now I think from the moment we’re putting together our plans for the final quarter it’s all about how we want the customer to experience that, from first coming onto the website to finally having the parcel in their hand, and how it goes through all the different partners we have. It’s very, very different from a few years ago.

IR: What do you expect people will be asking you about IR conference? Are Brexit and automation the big challenges now?

PB: I think it will be very interesting because I think Brexit will be very much part of people’s thought processes, and it’s also part of N Brown’s thinking at the current moment, in terms positive and negative outcomes. I expect there’ll be a few questions around Brexit, and how to keep and maintain a loyal workforce in 2018, but also people’s thoughts will have turned to 2019 and what happens there.

There will be questions around automation but I think most of us will plan our peak volume around our current capacities. Most of our focus will be around whether we have set all our current operations up, have we done all our maintenance ahead of the beginning of November, where are our partners’ suppliers and the operations to keep our equipment running. Most focus will be, I expct, on how do you maintain that relationship with your delivery partner into, through and out the other side of peak. What are you doing to keep them informed, to work together on pinch points? How are they managing and balancing volumes across the network? For a lot of businesses like us that’s the key question – how are you keeping your carriers informed of the decisions you’re making on a daily basis and how is that impacting on your capacity?

IR: Is this your first time at InternetRetailing Conference? 

PB: Yes, I’m very excited. I can’t believe the amount of interest it’s already attracted internally –  I’ve had lots of people coming up and commenting on that. I hadn’t quite realised what I was getting into but now it’s getting closer and I’ve learned more about what the event is, I’m very excited about it. Anything to do with product, customers, retail and service – absolutely I get excited about that. Who wouldn’t get excited in the run up to the busiest time of the year?

Phil Barnes will be speaking in the Delivery & Operations stream at IRC 2018. His presentation, What does an operational excellence strategy look like leading up to and during peak trading periods?, is at 4.10pm. Find out more about the conference by visiting

Image courtesy of InternetRetailing Events

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