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GS1 standards provide the platform to improve accuracy and gain visibility of stock

Date: February 23, 2015

Category: Industry news, Guest opinion piece

Terry Murphy, John Lewis shares his thoughts after joining our supervisory board

Terry Murphy, director of national distribution centre operations at John Lewis, has been appointed to the GS1 UK Supervisory Board. Terry will represent the growing community of GS1 UK members from the general merchandise and apparel sectors who are adopting GS1 standards to support the move to omnichannel retailing.

We are very excited to welcome Terry as he brings more than 30 years of logistics and supply chain experience. He has responsibility for the John Lewis national distribution network, which deals with a complex supply chain of over 3500 suppliers, covering a wide range of manufacturers and brands from a multitude of locations. His insight and contribution will draw on experience gained in managing a broad range of products, sources and selling channels.

Terry stated he is “delighted to have been appointed to the GS1 Supervisory Board, so that John Lewis can support the development of these global standards,” as he felt he could help bring the wealth of benefits to their own diverse supply chain as well as UK retailing as a whole. “We recognise the critical role that GS1 standards play in enabling the level of efficiency modern supply chain operations demand and have been working with GS1 UK recently on the implementation of EPC-RFID across our stores to enable item level tagging.”

We took the chance to catch up with Terry to ask him about the role GS1 standards play in an increasingly digital and multichannel market, and how the transition to RFID will help John Lewis achieve their goals. 

With fashion representing a growing market for their business, both in store and online, he identified the challenge as “making sure the supply chain has greater velocity” – as for the apparel sector, speed to market is crucial.

He then stated that “GS1 standards provide the platform to improve accuracy and gain visibility of stock”, something which many retailers will feel is viewed as important by customers, who demand both speed and flexibility.

When asked about end-to-end supply chain visibility, he felt this was an area for improvement, noting that the “technology in the GS1 arena really gives visibility, providing consistent information through standardisation” – something that is important to John Lewis as they “want to be able to tell where a product is in the distribution centre, in store, on the journey to the customer – whether fulfilled through click and collect or home delivery – and where it is on the way back if it’s then returned.” 

By gaining end-to-end visibility of the supply chain he aims to improve the lead times for delivery and click and collect. A single view of stock will allow the use of stores for omnichannel fulfilment. For the apparel market, the supply chain must also deal with the added pressure of a higher level of returns than other retail segments. Terry also highlighted this as an area, where being able to quickly identify a product, find where it is in order to assess its condition and – when possible – get it back in the supply chain for sale is a big opportunity. 

In order to deliver on these goals, Terry pointed to a “need to improve the technology within the supply chain”. And to this end he felt RFID offers “a gateway” into achieving the company’s fulfilment and customer experience ambitions.

With RFID there is the potential to know the stock position precisely - a necessity Terry pointed out in light of today’s environment of shrinking stock rooms and dynamic replenishment. With most of the stock out on the shop floor, serialised product codes are a must to know stock numbers in specific variations. This has the additional benefit of enabling customers to see into inventories and reserve stock from home. 

The second impact Terry saw for RFID was in store, which  he pointed out was much simpler, as stock counts will no longer tie up countless hours, allowing their partners to better serve their customers.

“The effect of RFID will be felt right through our supply chain, enabling us to automate our facilities up stream. The technology maximises the benefits of automation. It will allow us to consolidate and fulfil orders, from across channels and sources, serving the customer more efficiently. Ultimately this affects the authenticity of our brand.”

Finally we wanted to ask Terry, with the media declaring John Lewis one of the winners of Black Friday, what they did differently to make it such a success for them.

“We start planning peaks and events early, working across functions to ensure all parties are aware of what is required of them, with a single, end to end view of each event. 

We have invested in our supply chain by bringing in automation, and the RFID is a continuation of that investment.  With 4-5 years’ experience of working in an omnichannel way at scale, we are hitting a rhythm now. 

Black Friday was an extreme day, but, we were pleased with our response. Overall we are obsessive about the planning and cooperation we put into managing these types of events. And close collaboration within the organisation, with agencies and with third party logistics partners is fundamental to our success.”