Michelle Hespe checks out one of five global honorees from the 2015 IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) and discovers the very clever concept behind the United Kingdom’s John Lewis department store chain.
Imagine if there was a department store at which the customers made the business decisions? Where the people from the street created and guided the retail philosophy to entice, please and retain customers? In essence, that’s the framework that John Lewis stores – under the John Lewis Partnership – are based upon, because the company is owned by a trust on behalf of its employees, who are known as Partners. This year, the combined work of those Partners resulted in the business scooping one of the world’s top retail awards – becoming one of the five most innovative retail stores in the world at gia in Chicago.
Every year, the International Housewares Association hosts the Global Innovation Awards, which brings together not only leading retailers in the world, but editors and publishers of the top retail and housewares publications to form a jury headed up by four expert judges, who are all retail experts in different sectors of the industry.
This year, the jury and judges chose John Lewis as one of five global honorees for its great architecture; theatrical, creative displays; thought-provoking use of ordinary products, and its breathtaking merchandise displays. They also praised the store for its innovative pop-up mini shops in the store’s aisles, and all agreed that John Lewis is exemplary in cross-channel sales, utilizing an impressive online store and mobile app.
The core business approach of John Lewis, with its ‘Partners’, is what initially makes it stand apart from many other retail operations. “The John Lewis Partnership’s reputation is founded on the uniqueness of our ownership structure and our commercial success,” said Nicola Hattersley, buyer from the Cookshop sector of John Lewis. “Our purpose is ‘the happiness of all our members, through their worthwhile, satisfying employment in a successful business’, with success measured on our ability to sustain and enhance our position both as an outstanding retailer and as a thriving example of employee ownership. With this in mind, our strategy is based on three interdependent objectives – Partners, customers and profit.”
It is now over 150 years since the first John Lewis Store opened its doors in London’s Oxford Street in 1864. From that day forward, the business has had the same pledge to its customers: ‘Never knowingly undersold’. “Our unique promise to our customers, that the price of any item we sell will always be as low as the lowest price in the neighborhood, has been our slogan for over 75 years,” explains Nicola. “Through the efforts of our Partners serving customers with our suppliers’ high-quality goods, we have succeeded in building the largest department store retailer in the UK.”
It is indeed an impressive collection of retail outlets – with 43 John Lewis shops, 31 department stores, 10 ‘John Lewis at Home’ stores and shops at both St Pancras International and Heathrow Terminal. “All of the stores offer an exciting, inspiring environment for our customers to shop,” says Nicola. “They provide theatre and inspiration through cross-merchandised displays, good orientation, navigation and facilities to ensure our customers can shop with ease, and our multi-channel proposition is integrated throughout our branches so customers can view our extended range online.”
The gia judges and jury were particularly impressed with three facets of John Lewis: the Partner concept, their pop-up stores and their omni-channel approach to business.
As the public and those in retail have witnessed over the last decade, pop-ups give businesses a chance to showcase products that might not always be their current line of focus, and a chance to test a niche or sector of business that they haven’t been involved in before. It also gives businesses a chance to dapple in servicing demographics that they have not approached before, and to bring particular products together for celebrations or timely events. “Pop-up shops within store give us an exciting opportunity to showcase different product themes – for example a showcase of British brands, or to support a cross-category brand such as Orla Kiely (a top Irish fashion designer who has merged out into a wide variety of products including homewares and even cars). This year we also had a pop-up shop that pulled all the products together to celebrate our 150th birthday,” says Nicola.
The omni-channel approach that John Lewis impressively adopts has them reaching their customers no matter what way they shop. An innovative example of this that impressed the judges is the marketing to support a new initiative called the ‘Cook Edition’. The partners approached John Brown content marketing agency with the task of informing both existing and new customers of its cookware and dining ranges, and from this brief, the John Lewis Cook Edition was created. It is essentially an edited offering of recipes and the supporting kitchen gear needed to cook and present it. The initiative is led by a quarterly 16-page magazine featuring beautifully photographed dishes, at-home entertainment ideas and product stories by leading voices in the food industry.
“The publication sits on the Cooks Table fixture in-store, supported by product highlighters to accompany the stories told in-depth in the publication,” explains Nicola. “And for those who want to digest the publication digitally, our newsstand app (available on Apple, Kindle and Android devices) features additional digital content and features, such as step-by-step recipe guides and click-to-buy functions.”
The app also houses video content that is produced to bring the recipes and products to life, which are then utilized across John Lewis owned social estate as a means of encouraging their customers to engage with them through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Once engaged, customers are then enticed to discover more by vesting the John Lewis Cooking & Entertaining hub online. ”To provide an external voice, we also engage our blogger network to bring these stories to life through their own creations of our recipes, as well as media inserting cooking ideas into national press publications and key food titles,” says Nicola. John Lewis also ensures that the Partners are spreading good word of their business, and with the training and development that they receive, it’s no wonder that they do. “There is emphasis on Partners driving their own development which is supported by reviews twice a year that help formulate a Partners Development Programme,” she says.
For customer service, John Lewis has a training program called ‘Love to Sell’, that was developed using customer and Partner feedback. It’s approach puts the customer at the heart of sales using a self-explanatory 5-step ladder:
- Show me you know me
- Inspire me
- Find me a solution
- Tell me what I need to know
- Make it easy for me
One of the most important factors for John Lewis, Nicola says, is that as a partnership the company is democratic, open, fair and transparent. “The Partners have a voice through a number of democratic channels so there is a true sense of pride in belonging to something. Everyone can influence how the business is run,” she says.
It’s this unique approach and structure as a partnership has given the company an innovative, not to mention highly successful way of doing business, ensuring that since 1864 John Lewis has grown to become the most successful department stores in the United Kingdom, and one of the latest five stores in the world to proudly call a gia their own.
For more information about the gia (IHA Global Innovation Awards) program, the co-sponsors, or participating in 2015-2016, contact Piritta Törrö at email@example.com. Additional information on the IHA’s gia Awards program is also available online at www.housewares.org/gia.
For more information about the International Home + Housewares Show and to pre-register for the 2016 Show, taking place in Chicago on March 5-8, 2016, please visit www.housewares.org.