John Lewis’ new managing director Paula Nickolds revealed her thoughts on the future of one of Britain’s best-loved retailers today.
Nickolds, who took the helm of the department store in January, spent her morning outlining her thoughts on the changing retail landscape and the way that John Lewis would approach the challenges it brings.
She used John Lewis’ history, and the history of the wider sector, to speak about the industry’s present challenges and how she intends to capitalise on the opportunities they bring.
“It is my determination to give them [customers] more of the John Lewis they love and perhaps a little bit of the John Lewis they haven’t even dreamt of yet”
Nickolds said: “It has not escaped me that I am taking on the job at a very challenging time for the industry… there is no map, you are creating a new model, essentially.”
She said that John Lewis had always adapted to the changing consumer environment and that it would do so again.
She added: “It is my determination to give them [customers] more of the John Lewis they love and perhaps a little bit of the John Lewis they haven’t even dreamt of yet that will define my time as managing director.”
Nickolds is a John Lewis lifer who spent several years in former boss Andy Street’s management team, so it’s no surprise that she speaks the John Lewis language well.
She both borrowed phrases from founder John Spedan Lewis and referred to the words of chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield on currency headwinds, as well as repeating John Lewis’ current mantra of “fewer partners, better jobs”.
She revealed that there would be more redundancies to come, although she declined to go into detail on numbers or business areas.
Nickolds chose to present her vision in broad brush terms, not disclosing many future projects.
Specific plans included the increased roll-out of one-to-one customer consultations with partners.
“I am very conscious that I am but a temporary guardian of the brand, which stands for something very important”
John Lewis already offers customers personal styling and home fitting consultations, but is now working towards customers being able to book sessions with individual partners who have a deep knowledge of a certain business area, such as a certain type of technology or haberdashery.
Nickolds did not reveal an exact date for when these plans might be introduced but said that the department store needed to “move fast” in implementing them.
Owain Roberts, retail practice area leader at Gensler, says: “Constant re-invention as part of a brand’s evolution is critical for success and to remain relevant to constantly evolving expectations from shoppers.
“They demand experiences rather than simply product driven transactions, and as such, are expecting more from retailers, particularly those of John Lewis’ size and standing. To keep up, firms are increasingly taking a rapid prototyping approach to customer experience, testing ideas and rapidly rolling out those that show merit.”
Roberts highlights Selfridges as a good example of a department store that is “an events store as much as a retailer”.
“Entertainment, education, hospitality, pop-up, themes, seasonality, original and relevant services come together to create a distinct and aspirational lifestyle destination,” he says.
”John Lewis has a similarly rich heritage of original services - translating these into a world where themes such as artificial intelligence, contextual marketing and complex demographic differences are rapidly emerging will be a key to continued success.”
Own brand ambitions
Nickolds, who is renowned as a product guru who has honed her skills at John Lewis, revealed her plans for John Lewis sales to be a 50/50 split between own brand and branded but, again, declined to put a date on this. Own-brand currently accounts for 35-40% of total sales.
While it is not yet entirely clear what the industry and customers can expect from John Lewis in the coming years, it is clear that Nickolds’ vision for the department store will fit well into the John Lewis narrative.
“I am very conscious that I am but a temporary guardian of the brand, which stands for something very important,” she said today. “With that responsibility comes huge expectation.”