Q&A with Jonathan Reeve on Retail's Last Mile

By Aisha, Director of Strategy


Retail has been greatly disrupted by technology.

Not many retailers are ready for the change ahead.

We know user experience is everything when building trust, driving engagement, sales, referrals and loyalty.

In our event this week we are been lucky to have Retail’s Last Mile author and industry expert, Jonathan Reeve, to show us how to pave the way for a friction free future.

I was lucky to get my hands on Retail’s Last Mile and one of the first quotes resonated with me so I wanted to share.


          “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole”

          Theodore Levitt, former Harvard Business School Professor of Marketing.


I wanted to take this opportunity to ask Jonathan a few questions about what he sees as the future of retail and any tips he wanted to share.

First things first, tell us a little about you.

An interesting aside is that I was born in Uganda but we had to leave in a hurry after the rise of a dictator called Idi Amin (made famous again in the book and film The Last King of Scotland).

I am now a speaker, author and adviser who aims to help retailers build profitable, stress-free, online operations. I worked in retail businesses in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia for over fifteen years and was part of the team that developed the operating model for Tesco.com, a global pioneer of online grocery retail. I have also worked in store retail and was the store manager of a large supermarket in London.

I now live in Melbourne with my wife Anna and sons Leo and Max. I enjoy keeping fit, and have completed several ultramarathons and ironman triathlons.

Why are you so passionate about retail?

Like many retailers, I’m not a huge shopper. I love retail because the people who work in it are down-to earth and fun and because I enjoy the complexity of retail operations. I especially like the online retail challenge because we are tackling completely new problems that have never been seen before. The disruption of retail by online will only happen once in our lifetimes and there is no textbook or prior experience to draw upon.

Where did the idea for the book come?

There is some clichéd advice for first-time authors, “write what you know”. One thing I know about is online retail as I have been working in the area since 2001 and have been lucky to work in several great companies and three continents. It’s also a topic that gets written about a lot because there is so much happening, but few writers take a long-term perspective. I’ve tried to do that, going right back to the early 1990s to help readers make sense of the underlying trends, not this week’s news.

What is the biggest challenge for retailers?

The biggest obstacle for most retailers is finding the time to think about and focus on long-term goals when just managing today’s world is so tough. To avoid being a victim of disruptive innovation, however, there is no alternative. As Clayton Christensen observed, “If you defer investing your time and energy until you see that you need to, chances are it will already be too late”.

Do retailers really understand customer needs?

A key point in my book is that few retailers have yet worked through the relative strengths and weaknesses of the store and online channels in meeting customers’ needs. The “conventional wisdom” of omni-channel retailing can be unhelpful - that retailers should serve customers however they want to shop. That can take retailers’ attention away from thinking deeply about specific customer needs. An example I use in the book is a repeat purchase in which customers know in advance exactly what they will buy. I contend these purchases will shift online because there is no need for customers to even spend time making a decision, let alone visit a store. Only a few retailers, most notably Amazon, are preparing for that.

What is the one key message you want to communicate from the book?

The disruption of store retail by online has only just begun. Technology, which enables customers to make smart digital decisions and a wave of innovation in logistics, are combining to solve the challenge of “retail’s last mile”: how to profitably sell and deliver products to customers shopping from home.

Why do you think online shopping will exceed our wildest predictions?

Online retail has only taken a sizeable share in a few sectors, for example books and electronics. Yet many areas of retail with a small share of online sales have huge potential for home delivery – once the last-mile challenge has been addressed. Grocery shopping is a good example. Many of us spend several hours each week either driving to, or in, a grocery store. However, most of us don’t visit supermarkets because we love grocery shopping - there is just no convenient alternative. Last-mile innovation will change that.

Last but not least, what next?

I’m excited about sharing a keynote speech I’m preparing on Retail’s Last Mile and working with forward-thinking retailers on the last-mile challenge.

If you want to know more email us info@bournedigital.com.au or event purchase the book here for $20, it a great read and easy to digest. Next step is to take action.