John Lewis remember and refresh what made them famous

An article in The Times today gave an inside view on how department store John Lewis Partnership plan to renovate their core business, led by new Managing Director, Paula Nickolds. In particular, the article shows how John Lewis is remembering and refreshing what made it famous to be relevant for today.

Don’t wait to renovate

The company is right to renovate now, while the business is still doing OK. Profits were up 21% to £370.4 million last year, on  sales of £11.2 billion. But competition is intense, consumer needs are changing quickly and economic environment is turbulent to say the least, with Brexit now underway.

Look back – what made your brand famous?

The initial instinct for a new leader can often be to start changing stuff straight away, to ‘make their mark’. However, it pays to take a bit of time to first remember what made your brand famous. “When Paula Nickolds became the first woman boss of John Lewis, her initial move was to look to the past,” says the Times article. “She headed to the retailer’s archive in Berkshire.”

This bit of ‘brand archeology’ seems to have been fruitful. Paula discovered how John Lewis had a track record of responding to consumer trends with innovative new services to upgrade the core offering. “In the 1950s customers going on holiday didn’t want to worry about taking food, so we did a daily service delivery to caravans and holiday homes,” she explains in the article. “In the 1960s, when everyone was trying to get used to this new fangled TV thing, we would carry out TV demonstrations in customers’ homes.” You can see an example of a technical leaflet on TVs from the 1960’s on the right.

Look forward – how is culture and consumer behaviour evolving?

In addition to looking back, you of course also need to look forward at what is changing. On a recent project for leading South African retailer, Woolworths, we worked with experts to ‘decode’ how the territory of ‘everyday aspiration’ was evolving. This involved looking not only at brand communication, but also other aspects of culture, such as TV shows, movies and music.

In the case of John Lewis, one key trend is how people are going to shops not only to buy things, but also for entertainment or to seek expertise on increasingly complex, internet-enabled products. “What they want is more of a day out, to experience something,” commented Paula. In addition, shopping is becoming increasingly ‘omni-channel’, where people use multiple channels as part of a single shopping ‘mission’. Already, 2/3 of John Lewis customers use more than one channel per transaction, and this is only likely to increase.

Renovation brief: Keep, Update, Loose, Add

Having looked back, and looked forward, the next step is to define ‘a renovation brief’. As Paula describes, “We want to give shoppers more of the John Lewis they love and probably a little bit of the John Lewis they haven’t even dreamt of yet.”

Keep: any initiatives will be underpinned by John Lewis’s long-established product design credentials and its “Never knowingly undersold” guarantee. The 86,700 partners who co-own the John Lewis Partnership will also be critical to successful implementation of new ideas.

Update: John Lewis needs to get even better at providing a ‘seamless’ shopping experience, whether online, on mobile or in store. This includes investing £4m on iPhones for 8,000 shop floor employees across 20 of its stores to strengthen the cross-channel consumer experience, as reported here.

Loose: The stores’ haberdashery (buttons, threads, zips) and millinery (hats) departments are set to be downgraded, according to this article, to make room for more contemporary offerings.

Add: more desirable own-brand products will be launched to increase their share of total sales, including fashion ranges with more credibility. An example is the recent launch of the first ever in-house ‘lifestyle’ brand, And/Or, made exclusively in L.A. with denim experts Calvin Rucker. “A smart move with excellent credentials to boot,” according to Vogue here. There are also plans to make the in-store experience more exciting, with talks of prosecco bars and bikini waxing salons.  “I am talking about the holistic provision of services that a department store can provide,” comments Paula.

In conclusion, Paula has started the right way when renovating John Lewis, by looking back at what made the brand famous, and looking forward at emerging cultural and consumer trends. The challenge now is to execute the renovation plans with vigour and rigour and it will be interesting to see how the retailer’s offer evolves in the coming 12-18 months.