John Lewis’ focus on providing an exemplary customer experience has contributed to their position as a prominent retailer on our high streets. Ever since the first store was opened in 1864, the John Lewis Partnership has been renowned for its focus on customer needs, with a particular emphasis on providing excellent customer service, evident in their famous “never knowingly undersold” policy introduced in 1925. Since then, this reputation has continued, with the firm being awarded the ‘UK Customer Satisfaction Award’ and ‘Retailer of the Year’ in 2011, to name but a few.

Emma James, a consultant at Capgemini Consulting focuses on the retailer John Lewis and poses the question: with more retailers engaging in the digital space, is John Lewis’ traditional focus on customer service still relevant?

Much of John Lewis’ continued financial success is due to their focus on providing an exceptional customer experience within stores. Their partnership model encourages employees to feel a sense of business ownership, while their “never knowingly undersold” policy has supported their reputation as a trusted retailer. However, John Lewis faces a new challenge in an increasingly digital world. With more retailers engaging in the digital space, is John Lewis’ traditional focus on customer service still relevant? Many consumers would answer “yes”, with research showing that good customer service, albeit in a different form, is still important to today’s online consumers. YouGov (2010) found that 35% of UK shoppers would spend more money online if better customer service or care was offered.  This presents a particular challenge for retailers: Smarta agrees that “it’s much more difficult to retain any of the personal touch of offline service[when dealing with customers online]”.

John Lewis, however, is successfully transferring its brand identity as a trusted retailer into the digital space. Website Manager Sean’O Conner states that “John Lewis works tirelessly to provide our customers with an excellent service, and that applies as much to the online environment, contact centres and distribution teams, as it does to our stores”.  This has contributed to the success of John Lewis’ multichannel strategy, which has been hailed as an achievement, winning the Drapers Record/Retail Week Etail Awards (2012) for ‘Multichannel Retailer of the Year’.  

Much of John Lewis’ success as a multichannel retailer has been due to their focus on the customer experience, tailoring their digital strategy to meet customer needs. The Click and Collect service, introduced in 2009, is now being expanded so consumers who have ordered products online can collect them from not only Waitrose but other retailers. Their recent introduction of product personalisation online, presenting relevant products according to consumers shipping history, has been described by Sean O’Connor as “an extension of quality customer service”.

Moreover, John Lewis has recently announced a number of innovative concepts improving customer experience through the use of digital. The retailer recently opened a new virtual shop in Brighton, presented as a window display of QR codes comprising of their ‘top 30 things to buy for Christmas’, which links to their mobile website. Another development is the introduction of virtual computerised mirrors, digitally superimposing clothes products onto an image of the customer, which will be trialled in the new store in Exeter. Shoppers can save collections of clothes and even share the images with friends through social media. These innovations, as well as establishing John Lewis’ reputation as a multichannel retailer, use the power of digital to enhance the customer experience both online and in-stores.

In many ways, the heart of the John Lewis Partnership is still based in its stores and the business is committed to ensuring an excellent customer experience on the shop floor. However, their increased online presence and multichannel strategy, far from replacing the traditional stores, is encouraging customers into their shops, making movement between the shop floor and the online environment almost seamless.  Andy Street, MD, has said that “new shops stimulate our brand presence and online sales in areas where we trade”. As such, in 2011, John Lewis launched its new ‘bespoke’ stores, showcasing products relevant to local audiences and complemented by its multichannel offerings, with the first pop-up shop opening in Exeter in September this year.  A particular example of John Lewis’ use of mobile technology to encourage in-store sales is the development of their new iPhone app that enables customers to scan barcodes of products in-store and link to the mobile website to purchase products if they are not available, as well as obtaining directions to local stores by GPS.

John Lewis’ strategy to provide an exceptional customer experience has adapted in response to changes in the retail environment.  Their price matching policy was recently changed to include only products sold with the same service conditions, and excludes products sold online, in response to increasing competition from online retailers. However, John Lewis has embraced the use of digital tools and online presence to expand their brand image, and to extend their reputation as a trusted retailer into the digital space. They are an example of how multichannel strategy can enhance customer experience, and particularly customer service, both online and offline.