Andrew Blatherwick

Chairman Emeritus, Relex Solutions
Andrew Blatherwick joined leading UK and International retailer Boots in 1977 rising to become Group Product Manager Foods before moving on to frozen foods retailer Iceland where he spent ten years, the last five years as Supply Chain Director. He joined inventory management systems company E3 Corporation as International President in 1995 and drove the business forward so that at the time of its acquisition in 2001 it had more than 500 retail and wholesale customers in 20 different countries. Andrew served as President of JDA International before joining Manchester-based Alphameric Retail as Managing Director where he helped reverse the business’s decline. He’s since brought his business development expertise to CoreProcess International (as Group CEO), Argility (as Executive Director – International Business Development), Manthan Systems (as President of Manthan Systems Europe) and is currently CEO at business consultancy A2B4P. He advises a select stable of companies in a non executive capacity focusing on business development and change management.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2020

    Do retailers need to make price optimization a priority right now?

    While price is always important in retail, what is now critical is having good availability and standards in the store. Price optimization has traditionally been complex and difficult for retailers to get the best out of, with many solutions becoming shelf ware. It is important to have a strong price identity - if that is your main strategic positioning then you have to make sure your customers know that and you need to live by it. This is about price management and making sure you have good visibility of your competitors and adjust your prices accordingly. Setting prices and understanding what items have a high or low elasticity can be important in positioning product pricing to protect that strategy but changing prices too frequently can adversely affect the way you are seen by your customers. Do not try to get too clever or you will confuse them and lose confidence in your brand. Does COVID-19 make pricing more important? Certainly people have less money and will be looking for the best prices, but they are also going out less and do not want to be going from shop to shop. It is the overall price perception that is important. If the first wave is anything to go by, having the stock on the shelf will be the prime mover.
  • Posted on: 10/27/2020

    Will its values-based approach turn Hive into an e-grocery powerhouse?

    The Hive message is very simple and understandable - they are very much a marketing machine that has listened to what Millennials are worried about and put together an offering to address this. However two major problems exist. First, it is difficult to argue that any online retailer is that worried about the environment. Even if they offset carbon emissions it is not a great message. Second, can Millennials afford to pay for the luxury of this offering? The unfortunate timing of COVID-19 has put a lot more pressure on families, who are facing job losses and reduced hours resulting in less money to spend. Expensive brands that are eco-friendly may just not be attainable. Can Hive generate the volume necessary to be price competitive in a very tough market? They may also be a great place for other mainstream grocers to look at what they sell and incorporate those into their ranges to combat Hive. Great philosophy, I hope it works and give it my very best wishes, but it is going to be tough to really scale.
  • Posted on: 10/26/2020

    Where are curbside and BOPIS services falling short?

    This is still new ground for many retailers. While it seems like an age ago that the first phase of COVID-19 struck, it is just over seven months since retailers had to try and adjust to a new channel or to major increases in that channel. When you think back to how long it took to get online home delivery right these channels are still in their infancy. However customer expectation is high and retailers have to rise to the challenge, Walmart and Target are the standout performers and given their scale this is not surprising. They are setting a benchmark to which others have to rise. When customers complain about order accuracy, this includes availability and substitutions which has always been an issue and is one that retailers really do need to get on top of. While we were in the crazy throes of the first wave of COVID-19 it was understandable, as retailers were hit with panic buying, but it is now not excusable to be falling short on availability -- that is a standard base line for retail. The festive season is really going to put pressure on BOPIS and curbside if the volumes seen earlier in the year are anything to go by. Retailers may need to seriously look at their staffing and supply chains to ensure they are able to keep up with the demand. Then if there are restriction imposed on numbers able to get together the whole demand pattern will change and retailers will really have to be fast on their feet. Keeping watch on what is happening by the day and staying flexible will be the marker for the winners and losers this year.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2020

    How crucial is last mile fulfillment to 7-Eleven and the c-store channel?

    The clue is in the name - convenience stores are not only convenient for customers to visit but they are also convenient in being close to the customers and therefore able to deliver online orders quickly and efficiently without long distance distribution. If they get it right, it will be very important for the future and success of those convenience retailers. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get it right all the time. First, they must ensure that the quality of the delivery mechanism is good, whether that is using third parties or their own staff, and the experience for the customer has to be good. Second, they must get their inventory management right, so they do not impact their store sales or have stock outs for online customers. Finally, if they are selling short shelf life and fresh items, they have to make sure that the quality and freshness of the product is to the customer's expectation. For many independent retailers this is not so easy. However if the owner manager is on the spot and knows his store he should be able to do it well. The quality of store staff at convenience stores is often lower than at major stores which can make it difficult. Also stores need good inventory systems and operational discipline is necessary to get it right.
  • Posted on: 10/14/2020

    Is a new store concept the start of something big(ger) for Aldi?

    I recently visited a larger format Aldi store in High Wycombe in the U.K. and it has a significantly larger fresh and short life area. I was very surprised to see how well it was managed and the quality of the produce. It is much harder to manage fresh and short life than ambient dry grocery but they seem to be doing very well. The shop was very busy and certainly the shoppers there while I was seemed to be liking what they saw with a lot of buying going on. If this is the next generation then look out other grocers. Aldi are on it and looking good. Along with their smaller city center stores that are still on test here in the U.K., they are attacking the major grocers on every front and seem to be successful too.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2020

    Staples to accept returns from other stores

    This is a very clever idea for Staples as it will drive traffic to their stores. It is then up to them to make sure they turn that traffic into business. Because Staples does not have a Christmas season peak, it makes perfect sense. They can handle returns when other retailers are at peak and they are at their quieter time. Their stores at Christmas are not heavily stocked so they have room to be able to handle the returned good. They are driving traffic to their stores when they traditionally would find it hard to do so giving them a new opportunity for business. Great thinking offering customers service and convenience and the retailers all gain as well.
  • Posted on: 10/09/2020

    NYC startup promises 15-minute grocery delivery

    All I can say is good luck to these guys. To do this from one location is possible, to manage this through multiple locations profitably and sustainably is going to be very, very difficult. Getting inventory right so customers are not let down, finding locations at a reasonable cost to be able to grow the business and then taking on the might of Amazon and Walmart who are already established in this field is a mammoth task. I applaud their ambition, I doubt their reality.
  • Posted on: 10/08/2020

    Will downsizing (food packs) bring a merry Christmas to Sam’s Club?

    While downsizing food packs is certainly appropriate for this season, it’s the whole package that Sam's is putting into place that will make their season a success. By gearing up for more BOPIS, curbside and home delivery activity plus the sizing initiative, they will be in a good place to meet the increase in demand online and fulfill its customer's requirements. People are not only looking at smaller gatherings this season they are also looking at tighter budgets as many are out of work and more still concerned for the future so spending will be watched very carefully. As you would expect, Sam's preparation are on track and right in line with what they should be looking at. How quickly they are able to put this into operation and get product through the supply chain is a different matter. Packaging and manufacturing changes are all more complex than they seem when you are making a major shift like this. However spreading the demand over a longer period and bringing forward product will meet customer demand as consumers are looking to stock up earlier and be well planned just in case. Who knows what will happen, so people are going to make plans to get ahead and be ready.
  • Posted on: 10/07/2020

    Will a new round of panic buying empty grocery store shelves?

    The U.K. has already seen a return to panic buying of toilet paper, flour and other essential items, not at the same level as March but it has started. With the decline in eating out, which will only get worse as we move into winter and restaurants can only seat people inside therefore less capacity, there will obviously be an increase in home eating and therefore a greater demand for food from supermarkets. The big difference this time is that supermarkets are geared up for an increase and have already taken steps to ensure that their supply chain is well stocked and ready to go. Retailers need to spread the capacity of their supply chain and use all available space in stores as storage capacity to help its warehouses and distribution centers get through what potentially could see record levels of demand over the seasonal period. It is so important to plan this whole season carefully and get the right products through to stores at the right time, to build safety stock where possible and smooth out the demand spike that is likely to take place. There is always a massive spike in throughput at this time of year. This year it is expected to be significantly higher. One word of caution - if there is a total lockdown and families are limited to the number of people who can meet or be in one house at a time then the whole season may shift in pattern and the spike will not take place to the same extent. This could be a disaster for grocers who have already geared up for the spike. The situation is changing so fast that who knows what restrictions will be in place come two weeks from now let alone two months? Once again the supply chain is center stage for retailers. They have had a stressful year but they will determine if a retailer is successful or not this holiday season.
  • Posted on: 09/30/2020

    Holiday hiring ain’t what it used to be

    There are more questions than answers for this one. With an increase in online business and restrictions on working in confined spaces, retailers are going to have to think hard about how to manage the seasonal trade peak. Does it offer a real opportunity for omnichannel retailers to use their stores as warehouses and picking locations and their staff as pickers for local online demand? This would certainly help retain staff in stores that may not be as busy as usual at the peak time. In areas of high COVID-19, will retailers manage to find the numbers of seasonal workers they need given that this could be a rapidly shifting picture? If staff get COVID-19 will retailers be able to keep up with the need to keep replacing them? It could be a very interesting season and one where there will be winners and losers dependent on who gets this right and who does not. There are opportunities to grab market share if you are efficient and slick in your supply chain. Will customers be more forgiving in these difficult times? It is doubtful when they have so much choice. We have seen in the past that delivery problems have damaged online retailers' reputation and business. This could be a crunch year for the ones who are not well prepared.
  • Posted on: 09/29/2020

    Did CDC’s announcement boost retail’s online sales prospects for Christmas?

    The question is really more, can online retail manage the volumes over the holiday season if the same level of increase is experienced for online shopping as happened in the early days of the pandemic? With retailers having to protect staff, not let them get too close to each other, limit the numbers in a warehouse at one time, etc., it is questionable how online retailers will be able to meet the volumes required to take up an additional 25 to 35 percent of sales during a holiday period. During last year's holiday season, when increases were nothing like this year, many online retailers struggled to cope and that was without working restrictions in the warehouse. There is also the difficulty of physically distributing that volume of product in a short space of time. If the season is not significantly extended then there will be a lot of people celebrating Thanksgiving in December and Christmas in January.
  • Posted on: 09/28/2020

    Do consumers need beauty products delivered within an hour?

    As retailers, we can all understand why companies want to get a competitive advantage and provide great customer service, but is this one step too far? Do customers really want this service or is it a marketing idea that is telling them they want it? Surely there comes a point where responsible retailers must think of the damage they are doing to the environment before they launch new initiatives like this, when you are delivering in such short notice there is no opportunity to schedule deliveries routes to make them efficient from a cost or environmental point of view. They are delivered direct to people wherever they live and that is the worst possible form of transport non-optimization. It is, in fact, the opposite of optimization. Do people need this so much they are prepared to damage the planet? It is time retailers took a long hard look at what they are offering and if it is really necessary and a reasonable trade off.
  • Posted on: 09/21/2020

    Will 2020 be the year the holiday selling season changed forever?

    With the pandemic back on an upswing across much of the globe, retailers of all types will have to plan and execute their supply chain very well this year to survive and meet customer demand. With working restriction constraining the number of people in closed spaces or working in close proximity to each other, retailers are going to have to find ways of spreading out the seasonal demand as much as possible. These sorts of events are possible in many sectors of retail but not so easy in grocery where the trend is usually for a late surge in sales. Even grocers may have to get creative this year if they are to spread the demand, possibly by way of promotions and events for particular groups of items to get the longer life items through the pipeline earlier to give more opportunity for shorter life products later in the season. It is going to be a very tough year for retailers. They need to take every cent they can from seasonal trading while managing their business in a safe manner for their staff and customers. This is not going to be easy so buckle up for the ride. The really good retailers who plan and execute well could make a killing this year, but the ones who get this wrong may not be there next year.
  • Posted on: 09/18/2020

    Online to make up 21.5 percent of grocery’s sales in five years

    It is not surprising that more people were shopping grocery online during the pandemic and also not surprising that many of them may continue to do so. The percentage will continue to increase. However what was very telling from this research is the very low percentage that moved to pure play online retailers. They still want to be able to see and stay loyal to the grocery store they are used to. Also what is so important is that online grocery sort out the really important issues of delivery slots and, critically, substitutions. They need to ensure that short life and fresh product is managed very carefully providing high quality and fresh produce or they will lose out. Once again it comes down to getting the supply chain right. The growth in BOPIS/click and collect and curbside pickup will be a big factor as this adds to the convenience of grocery shopping. It is no surprise though that Amazon has started opening their new Fresh stores to provide that element of grocery shopping that consumers still have the least trust in as far as the pure online retailers go. These locations also offer an ideal curbside and BOPIS collection point. Will older people who have time on their hands continue to buy on line when COVID-19 has passed? Some will, but my guess is many will go back to their old shopping habits just to get out of the house and have some social interaction. They are also the ones who would most want to select their own fresh produce!
  • Posted on: 09/17/2020

    Amazon Fresh grocery store opens touting low prices and cashier-free checkout

    While this will create a lot of interest and many Amazon fanatics will use it, they will have exactly the same issues that all fresh grocery stores have and will have to operate to an equally high standard if they are going to make this work. Fresh grocery needs to be exactly that – Fresh - and of good quality. No amount of technology will make up for that and customers will not accept poor standards just because of the technology. Amazon will need to get their supply chain right so that they can maintain those high standards that grocers operate at. It is not as easy as it looks and is a very different operation from online retailing. Good luck to them and I hope they have brought in the experience of this type of environment to make this work.

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