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John Lewis operations head: “Retailers should think more cleverly about partnerships” for fulfilment


Partnerships will be key to ensuring retailers can deliver on customer expectations for fulfilment, according to the John Lewis operations director.
Berangere Michel made the comments as part of a wider discussion about omnichannel fulfilment at Retail Week Live on Wednesday (27 March).

“There isn’t such a thing as offline or online from the customer perspective,” said Michel, highlighting that 80% of people who had downloaded the John Lewis app also shop in stores.

The company has been working to create one pool of inventory for all orders, she explained, the benefit being that it is there to satisfy a customer rather than specific channels.

Michel said all retailers must decide where they want to differentiate and be truly good at, because trying to be the best at everything would inevitably cause them to “dilute” themselves.

“If you’ve figured out how to make this profitable we’ll employ you tomorrow.”

She said John Lewis had decided to focus on service and convenience. Fulfilling higher volumes had meant introducing automation, particularly in its warehouse complex near Milton Keynes, allowing it to meet customer demand even at peak times. Michel said the company could ship 12,000 orders per hour from this site.

However, she said that as automation comes out of cost and is only used for part of the year, different thinking is needed for when things are slower.

“We as retailers need to think more cleverly about partnerships.”

She suggested retailers should consider sharing warehouses and transport during the parts of the year when things are quieter.

One example of this is John Lewis’s joint venture with Clipper, she said, called Click Link. This takes all click and collect orders to Waitrose. John Lewis offers this to 10 to 15 smaller retailers. These retailers can get a John Lewis standard click and collect service while John Lewis can share its overheads.

Michel discussed another type of partnership, with John Lewis’s sister company Waitrose. This allows customers to hand over a John Lewis return to a Waitrose driver delivering groceries. Benefits include the cost savings of only having one driver going to the home and the fact it encourages customers to become customers of both.

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