NRF BIG Show: The John Lewis Journey

Sunday was the opening day of the NRF (National Retail Federations) BIG Show, and in line with it’s name it was just that. With 34,000 delegates, and 300 speakers at the show and stretched over the huge Jacob K. Javits convention centre on Manhattan.


Of all the presentations we sat through the highlight was definitely Paul Coby, the head of IT at the John Lewis Partnership (owner of Waitrose and John Lewis). Coby spoke about the partnership’s transition to being what we would say is the best omnichannel retailer. He acknowledged that at their level of sophisciation in the area ‘there is no text book’ – no one to follow – instead you have to ‘find out as you go’. This was refreshing honesty from a great retailer. During the presentation Coby gave three great insights into getting omnichannel right:

  1. It must be seamless.  Omnichannel naturally creates a more complicated customer journey. Coby re-iterated ‘you have to welcome (it)’. You have to accept that complexity will go hand-in-hand with a customer that wants to shop how they want, when they want, wherever they are.
  2. A fabulous frontend is useless if the backend isn’t sorted. You can win awards for your website looking great, but ultimately if the backend creates a ‘bad experience’ for your customer then it’s all theoretical. This was re-iterated by Levi’s President, James Curleigh, at a later session when he compared omnichannel to a ‘mullet’: ’It’s simplicity on the front and sophistication at the back’.
  3. You have to view the business as a single entity. The organisation has to embrace technology and not have a separate division or any cultural elements that will create channel conflict – or as was stated in a later presentation by Bill Simon (ex. President of Walmart America) ‘You can’t make your problems the problems of the consumer’.

These three elements are key to omnichannel success. That said, a sentiment that was continually reiterated through the day by  Simons, but summed up by Coby was to remember that ’the things that made customers want to shop you in the past (aka your values), still matter in 2015’.