John Lewis outlines “digital first” plan in strategic review update

The John Lewis Partnership has outlined its intention to become a “digital first” business as customers shift to eCommerce during Covid-19.

In a wide-ranging letter to staff updating them on the partnership’s strategic review first announced in March, chair Sharon White described plans to boost the retailer’s online business, stating that “shops will always be crucial to the brand but they will be in support of online.”

This includes significantly ramping up Waitrose’s online delivery capacity to 250,000 slots per week, rising from its current level of 160,000.

In the coming years, the retail group expects John Lewis to become 60% online, rising from 40% pre-Covid, and Waitrose to be over 20% online, compared to just 5% prior to the pandemic. White commented: “We have two of the best loved and trusted brands in the UK, rated highly for our personal service and expert, impartial advice. Customers are, however, shopping in very different ways - younger people especially - with the pandemic accelerating the importance of digital.”

She said there will be significant tech investment to make shopping easier and more convenient, including improving availability in-store and online, useability and personalisation of apps and websites, and online personal services. Both John Lewis and Waitrose have introduced new virtual consultation services during the lockdown period.

The partnership also plans to develop its in-store offerings in order to effectively support online. “We will get more experimental with store formats. Shops will showcase our brilliant products - displaying great design with more space given over to experiences that cannot be found anywhere else,” said White.

The letter revealed that the partnership’s store estate will be rebalanced over the next five years, potentially suggesting that further closures will be in the offing. Earlier this month it announced that eight of its stores will not reopen despite the lifting of lockdown, putting around 1,300 jobs at risk.

White added: “We need a transformation in the business and the action we take over the next nine to 18 months will be crucial.”