Call it pragmatism or call it a compromise, but John Lewis’s venture into standalone home and electricals stores is a sign of quite how far retailers are having to move away from their well-trodden paths property-wise.
For a retailer that by tradition moves at a slow, careful pace in all aspects, having a whole new format ready to roll out in less than a year from conception is a one of the most drastic things it has ever done.
But with all retailers’ continued profitability depending on gaining market share and the amount of new supply freezing up all over the country, what other options are there?
John Lewis might be in new territory – new format, new brand, different catchments and, for the first time, employing agents to find it stores – but this is all preferable to the prospect of losing most of its growth programme to the ravages of the recession.
And with a deep freeze descending on shopping centre developments around the country, it’s not just John Lewis which is having to think on its feet.
Speaking to the market, it’s clear that retailers are getting impatient. Many schemes that six months ago were not certain to open on time are now unlikely to open at all in their present guise. For the retailers that are banking on a new store in those catchments, waiting five years or more to open is not option.
John Lewis is right to have a plan B and for being so efficient in realising it, and all retailers should do the same, but it’s important that the search for profitability doesn’t mean compromise becomes too standard a practice.