Movers & Shakers Q&A – Paul Coby, IT director, John Lewis

Movers and Shakers 2014 Front Cover

Brought to you by Retail Insider and K3 Retail


Paul Coby, IT director, John Lewis

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

To test the boundaries of omni-channel retailing, all the while listening to what it is the customer wants and needs.


2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

To manage effectively the amount of technology enabled change we are making. There is simply no point in technology for technology’s sake. It must be meaningful, all the while leading back to what the customer wants.

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

As with most big companies, there are many legacy systems within John Lewis, some of which are no longer fit for purpose in the digital-age. In hindsight, I would have started the foundational investments earlier, such as the re-platforming of which we completed in February 2013.

4. What is the future of the physical store?

We know that the role of shops is changing – this Christmas confirmed the importance of our shops in omni-channel shopping as a place of inspiration and customer collection as well as many many purchases. Some 85% of all customer transactions involve using one of our shops in some way. Alongside excellent Partner advice, embracing technology in shops, which really helps customers, will allow us to maintain leadership.

Shops are at the heart of our growth. To that end, we are looking forward to the opening of our new regional flagship in Birmingham this year and two ‘At Homes’ in Basingstoke and Horsham. As well as opening new branches, we are re-imagining our shops. We will continue to define the role of shops, as customers are looking for more from their visits to the high street.

5. What will the high street look like in a decade?

This is very difficult to predict, you only have to look back to 2005 to see how wrong most predictions for 2015 were. This is why being agile as a retail business is so important. We must continue to listen to our customers to help us define what the future of the high street will look like.

6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?

There is no such thing as a primary sales channel in the new omni-channel world. As customers, we move seamlessly between channels including shops, online, mobile, tablet, social media and call centres as our needs and preferences dictate.

7. What other retail business do you admire?

Nordstrom in the US.

8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

I was first a civil servant, then CIO of British Airways, and I am also a bit of an amateur historian.

9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

That’s not for me to say…that’s for our customers and our Partners.

10. Who would you place in the Top 25 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?

I read your – Retail Insider – ranking for that.