John Lewis One Fifty for All!

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I have just come back from the John Lewis celebration for Partners of our 150th birthday at the LG Arena at the NEC in Birmingham.

It was entertaining, we were lucky to have 3 great stars performing their songs from our ads – Fyfe Dangerfield, Gaz Coombes and Paloma Faith – on the day she went to No 1, all hosted by Davina McCall.

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However the real stars were the Partners from the branches across the country, HQ and representing every part of John Lewis who paraded into the arena.  There must have been 7,000 at least in the Arena, and more on live links to Wembley and Edinburgh, with thousands more in branch parties around the country and streaming at home.  The singing and dancing was great, and the atmosphere was fantastic as you would hope for a 150th birthday party, but it was more than that.

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It was emotional, two retired Partners received a standing ovation and five Partners reflected on what working in the Partnership meant to them.

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It was inspiring, Andy Street’s speech at the end talked about what so many Partners feel: which is that our aim is to hand over the Partnership to the next generation in better shape than we inherited it.

Everyone left on a fantastic high – it was a fun, emotional, inspiring and unique  – like the Partnership.  So here’s to the next 150 years…

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Latest News on JLAB

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As you can see, I was recently privileged to meet Mr and Mrs John Spedan Lewis at the Party on the new Roof Garden at our Oxford Street emporium, to mark the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis drapers.

Yesterday we were delighted to announce out of the hundreds of entries, the 30 successful JLAB applicants that will be joining us in Canary Wharf to Pitch their ideas.

Each applicant is going to have 5 minutes to impress the panel followed by a Q&A session in the afternoon.

The 30 applicants range from Fashion ideas dreamt up at home to ibeacon enabled storefronts and IoT enabled projection mapping, and much else besides.  We are very pleased with the range of ideas and development of the pitching companies.

The Pitch Day 1 is the 20th May.  This will be a face to face session with some of our most important and inspiring mentors.  It will immerse the applicants in to the JLAB environment for the first time.

The next time we see an applicant after this day will be on the 9th June, which is the start of the 15 week accelerator phase.

Last Friday was the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis in Oxford Street.

About 100 years ago John Spedan Lewis had the first ideas about industrial democracy that he evolved into the unique John Lewis Partnership

50 years ago (or 51 to be exact) John Lewis purchased its first IBM computer.  This was a very bold and expensive step for a retailer in the early 60s!

Here we are in 2014, looking at our first Technology Incubator.  I feel very confident that this is exactly the sort of initiative that Spedan Lewis would approve of.  One that will hopefully help turn 5 start ups into viable and commercial companies; one that will transform the winning company; and last but certainly no means least, one that will improve service to our customers and grow revenues and profit for the John Lewis Partnership.

I should have asked him what he thought when I had the chance…

JLAB – Latest News

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JLAB – the John Lewis Tech Incubator – closed for entries at midnight on the Thursday before Easter and we have just had a chance to look at what’s come in.

We are very excited about the amazing amount of interest in JLAB.  The number of fully completed applications was 163, with no fewer than 84 being completed in the final two days.  I feel this shows how much care, effort and research the applicants have put in, to ensure that their applications resonate with the JLAB selectors.
We are rather humbled by such interest and attention to detail.

I am pleased to say that the applications range widely, from retail theatre to health monitoring applications. They include social interaction applications and even virtual fashion assistants.

The next stage for JLAB involves reviewing each application in preparation for the first ‘Pitch Day’ which is going to take place on the 20th May.

30 successful applicants will spend the day pitching their ideas to the distinguished JLAB Panel which will include our recently announced mentors.  From there, five successful applicants will be selected to take part in the 15-week accelerator phase.

Finally, the winner of the prize will be announced in September, with the prospect of their idea being rolled out across John Lewis.

 

John Lewis is 150 Years Old!

The John Lewis company is 150 years old this year.

Born in 1836, John Lewis grew up in Shepton Mallet and was apprenticed to a linen draper in Wells at the age of 14. He came to London and became a salesman for Peter Robinson, a well-known Oxford Street draper.

In 1864 John Lewis turned down the offer of becoming a partner in Robinsons and instead opened his own new shop at 132 Oxford Street, selling silk, wool and haberdashery.  On the first day he took 16s 4d!

By all accounts, he was an austere Victorian business who expected a lot from himself and his employees. But while most drapers of the time worked to a 33% profit on sale price, Lewis chose to make a profit of just 25% on his selling prices and insisted that his customers benefit from the good purchase price negotiated by his buyers.

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Lewis’s son, John Spedan Lewis, was born in 1885 and joined the family firm on his 21st birthday in 1906.  He received from his father a quarter of the John Lewis business, valued at £50,000 – a tidy sum in the Edwardian era.   Spedan Lewis became a director of Peter Jones Limited which had been acquired.  Along with his father and brother, Spedan enjoyed an income of £26,000 a year – again, a huge amount in those days.  He became increasingly uncomfortable that this income was considerably more than the entire wage bill for the company’s workforce of over 300 people, which was only £16,000.

After a riding accident in 1909, Spedan had to convalesce for two years and during that time thought deeply about business and society.  In January 1914 John Lewis senior handed over managerial control of Peter Jones to Spedan, who shortened the working day by an hour and started to pool commission for staff.  He also introduced frank two-way communication with his workforce, with staff committees with elected representatives.

Over the next four decades he developed his unique form of industrial democracy that was and is the John Lewis Partnership – the largest example of employee-owned business in the UK. The Partnership now has a turnover of £10bn and some 91,000 Partners across John Lewis (with 41 shops, since York opened last week) and Waitrose (with 300 branches).

Spedan summed up his philosophy as:

“The Partnership’s supreme purpose is to secure the fairest possible sharing by all its members of the advantages of ownership – gain, knowledge and power; that is to say their happiness in the broadest sense of that word, so far as happiness depends upon gainful occupation.”

I always say that if you want a stretching business goal, that is one – and one we strive to live up to in the Partnership, with our democratic Partner Voice and our restless innovation like JLAB.

“What would Spedan do?” is a good challenge about any initiative.

I think Spedan’s values are as valid and challenging today as they were in 1914 or 1954.  What we are constantly working to do is to make them relevant to a modern world being revolutionised by technology.  The way we all shop has changed dramatically in the last decade and will, I believe, change even more dramatically in the next.

But the values of the Partnership endure and are what customers value in the Partnership. They are as relevant in 2014 as they were when Spedan formulated them after his accident, which is why I love this ad from 2012:

What’s Important Doesn’t Change

Never Knowingly Undersold since 1925

In Store | Online | Mobile

 

Customer Trends for 2014-15

This post isn’t all about JLAB but I am pleased to say that the interest continues at a high level in the media and from potential entrants.

With JLAB in mind, I’ve been thinking about the prominence of technology and innovation as the engine of changing times for retail in the UK.    At the Retail Week Awards last Thursday, for instance, Chris Brook-Carter of Retail Week  said in his introductory speech:

‘Have the rules that define British retailing changed irrevocably under the cultural and economic forces that have driven the recent evolution of consumer behaviour?   Rapid digitalisation, combined with a reappraisal of financial norms, has broken down old barriers but opened new pitfalls too.   The Oracle Retail Week Awards is more than a roll call of the leading achievements in the industry. It is a window into the industry’s development. Those looking for themes this year will note how closely the roster of winners reflects the opportunities these changing times have given birth to.’

John Lewis was fortunate to be recognised as the Multi-Channel Retailer of the Year for the second year running.

Rather than reflect on the past, I thought we should look ahead.  So I had a word with John Vary, our Innovation Manager and JLAB leader, about what are the Mega Trends for Customers in 2014-15.  This is what he came up with, with a few thoughts thrown in by me:

1) Multiple touch points

We are increasingly expecting things which interact with all our senses, offer us a range of touch points to play with, and involve us  in immersive new experiences – see larger HD TVs and game consoles.

2) Hyper-efficiency

We are seeking ever-smarter and more efficient ways to solve age-old issues such as keeping fit, lack of space and, most of all, limited time – see wearables and home control technology like Nest.

3) The open industrial revolution

Science is no longer a closed world, just for us geeks. Digital and technological advances are enabling more of us to create in new ways, perhaps giving us a new appreciation of the digital hardware and apps as things of beauty – see the iPods, iPhones, iPads, brilliantly designed and sold to millions.

4) Escape

In a world of austerity and grown-up responsibilities, consumers have an increasing desire to let go, let loose and indulge in child-like escapism – see GTA and Candy Crush on everyone’s mobile.

5) Mindfulness

In a world full of hype and surface interactions, people are seeking depth and meaning. They are craving time away from the always-on stimulus of the media, making their leisure time more about self-development – see learned groups on Twitter discussing The War of 1812, Norfolk wildlife, crows and everything else…..

6) Super personalisation

Personalisation has been taken out of the hands of consumers. So it’s not just the bespoke products you select – it can be the bespoke products that find you. Advances in technology mean that producers are increasingly able to know consumers and give them what they want – see most retail web sites these days.

And finally, here is a rather jolly picture from the Retail Week Awards last week:
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John Lewis Launches ‘JLAB’

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As part of our 150 year celebrations, John Lewis has launched its first ever technology incubator ‘JLAB’, in a partnership with technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks.

The purpose of JLAB is to identify and develop technology innovations that will provide John Lewis with future strategic advantage with customers’ needs at the core of each idea.

The incubation period runs from June to September – JL and Stuart will work together to select five start-up companies who will be based within JLAB during that time.  When they are at JLAB, businesses will rapidly develop their products and solutions, supported by a team of John Lewis leaders and external mentors.

Three main areas will form the framework for innovation:

  • Helping customers shop: in-store innovation, customer experience across all channels (e.g. self service product info and prices) and technology-driven customer inspiration
  • Simplifying customers’ lives: innovation around the “Internet of Things” (how all devices will communicate together, enabling a more connected home)
  • Knowing each other: using data to drive real-time, in-store personalisation for customers, provided they want it.

The John Lewis Partnership’s founder, John Spedan Lewis, was a radical entrepreneur and so adopting a novel approach to business and retail innovation is not new to JL.  It’s a fundamental part of the Partnership’s DNA.

If anyone wants to be part of JLAB, you can apply on http://www.jlab.co.uk.  The closing date for submitting ideas is 17th April 2014.

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NRF from a Distance

The NRF is a big show in New York; well it’s the biggest of its kind in fact which is why so many retail technology folk go there.  

I couldn’t be there – but I contributed this piece to Retail Week.

At an event designed to grab headlines with the latest developments, it’s important to try to pick out the trends that consumers will actually want to use – rather than those that simply look good – and which will therefore provide a genuine return.

It is doubly difficult if you couldn’t make the event so have to do this remotely as I have had to do this year. However, that’s the position for most retailers on this side of the Atlantic – so here goes.

We live in the most exciting time for retail technology, and one of the best elements of my job is looking at these emerging technologies and picking the ones that will genuinely resonate with customers. The key here is to focus on the customer. There was a lot of talk about how retailers should cherry pick the best of suppliers’ technology for their own use. You can probably get a long way with this approach, but the way John Lewis likes to work with suppliers is to integrate them into our vision for our proposition and customer experience.

At present we are testing transactional tablets in our shops, and while seeing mobile devices in shops is far from being new, we believe the technology we’re using to integrate our electronic point of sale, stock and personnel systems, is the first of its kind at scale on the high street. It’s a beta technology that we developed on our supplier’s platform, so we have developed it to our spec, and we are now fine-tuning how it will work with our partners and our customers in our shops.

Foot Locker boss Ken Hicks’ views have been distilled down into the idea of using shops as warehouses, but you’ll never see John Lewis taking this approach. Our beautiful shops are at the centre of our omnichannel strategy. We want our customers to love shopping with us, we have passionate and informed partners who can help and advise customers. So absolutely our stores and more than 250 Waitrose supermarkets are vital as click-and-collect points, but we want people to stay and have a wonderful in-store experience when they collect an online order.

We have beauty spas and great places to eat in our shops and we are constantly looking for ways to use technology to enhance the shopping experience. We know that about two-thirds of our customers shop across our stores, call centres, web and mobile sites, and our Christmas sales figures show omnichannel works – in the five weeks to the December 28 we saw online sales grow 22.6% and store sales grow by 1.2%.

People obsess about whether the sale was made in the shop or online, but that’s just where the payment was made. The shopping experience was most likely across channels.

Whatever tech we use to achieve it, the basics remain the same. Spedan Lewis, the founder of John Lewis, talked about VAST – value, assortment, service and trust. Your values, and how you deliver them to customers, are what matters.

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