John Lewis’s online boss believes Black Friday could inflict “reputational damage” on retailers if they fail to learn lessons from last year’s event.

Black Friday

Speaking at the Retail Week Supply Chain Summit today, online director Mark Lewis said that “warning shots” were fired last year when supply chains of some the country’s biggest retailers struggled under the huge spike in demand.

A number of websites crashed as online traffic surged, while courier firms struggled to complete next-day deliveries that had been promised to customers.

John Lewis was one of the success stories of Black Friday and Lewis insisted that the retailer remains “committed” to participating in the annual event because “customers now expect it”.

But he warned that retailers would need to implement changes in order to cope with the increased traffic both online and in-store.

“Black Friday last year fundamentally changed the sales pattern”

Mark Lewis, John Lewis

Lewis suggested that digital and in-store shopping experiences would need to be better “converged”, while partnerships between retailers and logistics providers would have to become tighter due to the “supply chain growing in importance and significance”.

During his keynote speech to mark the opening of the two-day supply chain conference, Lewis said: “Black Friday last year fundamentally changed the sales pattern and drove a concentration of sales volume through that period. It’s not a trivial thing to deal with.

“As an industry it’s worth reflecting on what it takes to deliver that – what is the cost of this move? It’s quite an organisational feat to make this happen. We are very pleased and very proud of the fact we were able to meet our promises to customers on Black Friday last year despite enormous peaks and traffic surges of around 300% online.

“But we saw a few cracks in the industry digitally. When you look at back at last Christmas, you would probably say it was ‘the logistics Christmas’. The story was about those who did well and those who struggled with elements of their supply chain.

“We were very pleased and we were very successful, but it wasn’t universally good. There were some warning shots for the industry and some big names that struggled.”

In couriers’ hands

Lewis said it is vital that retailers and logistics providers work together this year to ensure improvements are made in the delivery process.

He believes retailers’ reputations are being “put into the hands” of courier firms due to an increasing number of points of contact with customers along different stages of the supply chain. Lewis said that made customers “increasingly restless and empowered”.

“There is a risk of customer service failures and reputational damage”

Mark Lewis, John Lewis

He added: “Collectively, we should be trying to work out how to resolve this situation. If we don’t collectively take that path we may see some challenges as we head towards Christmas.

“If we continue where we going as an industry, and we saw some warning shots of this, that there is a risk of customer service failures and reputational damage.

“The challenge is how we learn from that and how do we build more sustainable partnerships that can drive customer service and innovation. Pulling together various partners becomes the key to success in customer experience.

“If you look at Black Friday over the past three years, it’s exceeded expectations. You would only assume that it’s going to get bigger. The genie is out of the bottle.

“It’s not about customer demand, it’s about whether the supply chain can deliver, so it’s a pivotal time as an industry to make sure those partnerships are in a good state.”