John Lewis buying and brand director Peter Ruis said the department store chain aims to have 60 shops by 2018 so that 97% of the UK is only a 15 minute drive from one of its stores.

Ruis said that as part of the retailer’s omnichannel strategy it aims to expand its 39-strong store estate in order to drive online growth.

Speaking at the Drapers Fashion Summit 2012 yesterday (November 21), Ruis said: “We need new shops, we don’t have enough. We’re not in the places we need to be because when we open a shop we create a whole online market we never had. We need 60 shops and we’ll probably get there by 2018 with a bit of luck.”

Part of the expansion will be through the new, smaller format stores, which are only 67,000 sq ft, versus the typical 150,000 sq ft of a regular John Lewis department store. Ruis believes the smaller formats, which John Lewis calls “boutique department stores”, will help the department store grow its fashion business.

He said: “It’s very much about the future of fashion. It’s the first real opportunity for fashion to grow and the chance [for John Lewis] to have a smaller footprint stores in regional cities like Exeter. York and Chelmsford are to come.”

Ruis said John Lewis is targeting for online sales to rise from just under £1bn at present to closer to £3bn by 2020, but conceded it can be difficult to gauge precisely where sales come from in an omnichannel environment.

He said: “They [shoppers] don’t buy a sofa without sitting on it, but they probably transact online. They obviously buy fashion purely online and in the shop. The fastest growing area is electricals and that’s all online, so it’s very hard to track.”