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The Capability Award

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We have ten candidates for this year’s Capability Award: Amazon, Argos, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Laura Ashley, M&S, Phones 4u, Tesco Waitrose and WorldStores. Please read through their commendations below before submitting your vote at the bottom of the page. Choose your favourite from the list or select up to three in order of preference.

If genius is, as Edison claimed, 90% perspiration, then this Award values that 90% of eCommerce which is based upon the consistent, repeated capabilities of operations, IT, logistics, systems and processes. Web-level eye-candy is well and good, but it’s as nothing without the operational capability to deliver on those promises. The winner of this award may or may not have the snazziest interface or the most-hyped consumer brand, but boy oh boy do we look at them and wonder just how on earth they can be so efficient, effective and all-conquering with their ruthless capability. Deep down, this is the award our CEOs want us to win…


  • Consistent delivery of ongoing operations – predictable, reliable, consistent

  • Delivery of a new, novel or demanding service in a fashion that appears effortless to the customer

  • Ability to have tamed a complex task so that the operation is cost-effective (to the best of our ability to understand this)

  • Evidence that the retailer has built upon previous operations to create (perhaps without fanfare) a formidable operational capability

  • Resilience and flexibility – things don’t always go smoothly and error-recovery and adaptability underpin capability.


Amazon [show-irdx ramz]

In 2014 Amazon continues to set the standard for online retailing with particular focus on competitiveness and convenience of delivery, from investing in lockers near workplaces and transport hubs to the introduction of seven day delivery. As a competitor, Amazon inspires fear and anger (for example through its tax minimisation strategy) in every retail boardroom. Strategically, there is no area of UK retailing immune from the disruptive competition of this hugely ambitious and capable organisation.

Argos [show-irdx rarg]

Argos is an outstanding example of home-grown British multichannel success. To achieve its industry-leading logistical capacity with legacy systems and legacy real estate is an extraordinary achievement.

House of Fraser [show-irdx rhof]

House of Fraser now offers a nationwide seven-day-a-week click and collect service with an order cut-off time of 10pm and a UK-wide home delivery service offering an order cut-off time of midnight for delivery between 6-10pm the following day. Across all delivery methods HoF boasts an enviable SLA delivered at 99%

John Lewis [show-irdx rjlw]

John Lewis gets everything right. For example, outlets of sister company Waitrose are utilised as collection points. Click and collect from John Lewis is very fast and very free, giving the company a killer competitive edge. Many customers will shop JL first and only go to Amazon when they can’t get from the ‘green giant’.

Laura Ashley [show-irdx rlau]

Although at a smaller scale than others in this category, Laura Ashley is nominated due to its ability to sell made-to-order products such as furniture and made-to-measure curtains or blinds online. As we saw with Bathstore in the innovation category, supporting activity that’s more demanding that “buy a simple SKU” is a challenge that specialist retailers have to overcome.

M&S [show-irdx rmas]

M&S has been “doing it all really well” this year. As an indicator of its improving capability, M&S reports total eCommerce sales are up 12.5% in Q1 2014, despite the retailer being forced to throttle its marketing activity to ensure a smooth transition from its old Amazon platform to a new site. That this caution proved unnecessary is testament to the capabilities it has in-house now, and to deliver such growth while also implementing new warehousing and distribution, new product management information systems, new ecommerce platform, launching an editorial ‘magazine’ strand and rolling out store changes, iPads and collection points… This puts M&S in the premiere league of capability.

Phones 4u [show-irdx rpfu]

Phones 4u understands the mobile marketplace – the minor contractual features of each network provider – to present a uniform customer experience. Taking an order requires various steps mandated by the telco industry such as security checks, credit checks and connections. Despite all these potential points of failure Phones 4u still offers next day delivery and customers can still purchase a phone in-store in a simple, human manner. To succeed in its marketplace Phones 4u demonstrates a level of competence retailers of all stripes can learn from.

Tesco [show-irdx rtsc]

Groceries are important to everyone. With Tesco, the customer can buy in-store, click and collect, receive home delivery, accrue points for loyalty (points to spend on things that are actually relevant) and arrange next day delivery or timed delivery. Groceries are dull, but Tesco retails them brilliantly.

Waitrose [show-irdx rwai]

Along with M&S, Waitrose is the company to have really pulled everything together in the last year. From wholesaling its food via Ocado (a harsh interpretation!), Waitrose has “owned” Click and Collect with John Lewis, renovated stores and service with digital capabilities and point of sale, successfully revamped MyWaitrose, relaunched their website, and is about to unveil new capabilities with Waitrose Wines.

Some nice retailing touches ‘lift’ this from a template “catch-up” activity – integrated interstitial pages in the checkout process allow customers to realise any incomplete offers in their trolley, remind customers of products they regularly buy and introduce targeted recommendations. Favourites now accounts for 27% of additions to basket and reminders to buy forgotten Favourite products account for 64% of incremental revenue at checkout.

In all, Waitrose joins the club of leading retailers who are doing everything well and at scale.

WorldStores [show-irdx rwld]

WorldStores has a special approach to order fulfilment. The retailer is in business with a network of more than 500 manufacturers and suppliers across the UK and Europe. Stock is held at the supplier’s premises and WorldStores sends a carrier to collect orders from the supplier and deliver them to the customer. The systems used provide live order status information from receipt to delivery of each order. Order status is visible to customers, not just the WorldStores customer service team.

This capability is of interest since it ‘unlocks’ and makes sellable product from partners that might otherwise not have been saleable, while increasing the Worldstore inventory at no cost. Considered under ‘capability’ rather than ‘innovation’, Worldstores is nominated since this capability is one that other retailers will rate and seek to emulate.


Next up: The International Award

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