For much of the 20th century, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer didn’t have to try that hard.
If you wanted a new shirt that wouldn’t fall apart, or your tablecloth was looking threadbare, there weren’t many other options.
Cut-price rivals and the internet put paid to all that. Belatedly, the old behemoths realised they’d too many stores selling goods in antiquated, inefficient ways.
M&S woke up first, and now John Lewis, too, with tough new bosses finally shaking up their businesses by the scruff of the neck.
It’s hard to take issue with much in today’s update from the latter.
If Sharon White really can turn this year’s zero profit into
£400 million, good luck to her. The buy-to-rent property development plan seems smart. Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons have been developing out their stores successfully for years.
Furniture renting and resale is an interesting idea, too, albeit one borrowed from the grim years of postwar thrift.
For some of the new measures, it’s gobsmacking the group hasn’t been doing it already. White boasts that you can now buy John Lewis Christmas trees in Waitrose. Well, why did that take 90 years?
But there are some holes; if it really is to sell 70% of department stores’ goods online, White will have to close a lot more shops.
Second, she says she’ll ditch Never Knowingly Undersold and replace it next year (it costs too much money). So, what can be as effective as that brilliant, historic marketing message?
Finally, its customer service isn’t as special as White thinks. She has to improve it with staff who’s bonuses she’s just killed. Tricky.