An [alternative] open letter to the John Lewis Partnership…

Written by Hello Finch partner, Michael Longmore, Founder CEO, Corr Blimey!

I was fascinated to read Mary Portas’ open letter to John Lewis a few months back and this piece has been simmering away ever since. I’m sure JLP must have asked themselves “why did MP write it?” Let’s face it it’s the easiest thing in the world to kick someone when they’re down but it’s more useful to offer them a hand up isn’t it?

John Lewis Partnership

I didn’t notice MP offering any particular advice or great insight, it struck me as more of a self publicity campaign from MP inc.

So for what it’s with here are a few thoughts on the subject, generated from my own knowledge and experience and not AI. John Lewis is an institution, having worked with the behemoth years ago it’s certainly fair to say they were more British Library than Amazon in their speed of thought and deed, maybe it’s due to the partnership model but boy were they slow compared to the normal retail model, my own experience being with Tesco. For B&Q and Superdrug, speed was of the essence with those retailers. The lack of speed certainly seems to have translated into lack of sales and market share over the recent period, and it will take time to turn the super tanker around… hopefully not too much heed is paid to the consultants who are driven by spreadsheets rather than experience, it feels to me, JLP need more experienced hands on action than another pretty looking powerpoint deck.

Was it a brave move to appoint Sharon White? how many times have I heard “She’s not a retailer you know!” Well in my view, happy days, hopefully SW can apply some lateral thinking to the issue; 

…becoming a property business is good to see and will yield some short term £ but if JLP aims to be a retailer then surely some basic things should be applied.

You don’t have to be a retailer to do the simple things right, range, service, price, availability and loving your customers isn’t a bad place to start.

Does the board of JLP and its retinue of smart consultants visit the shop floor every weekend, do they conduct their own mystery shopping, ask random members of staff to find them odd items? I doubt it somehow.

So, I did my own random bit of market research, I still love JLP but as the mighty Tim Mason said years ago, a retailer losers its customer credits twice as quickly as it earns them, wise words from the legend. And I would suggest JLP’s customer credit has practically disappeared. So, off I trotted to my local JLP Home Store to test my hypothesis by trying to find 2 x 4 Litre kilner jars – I have bought these here before.

As usual there was very little in the way of signage because the staff have always been brilliant at helping. Problem no.1, no member of staff on the sales floor. Eventually I located a 2 legged point of sale operative and asked her if they had any kilner jars, hmmm she said I’ll have to look that up on my electronic device (her phone) – “oo no, we don’t sell those.” Ha ha thinks I, time for dialogue, alternative solutions, try next door, what are you using them for – sadly not, conversation closed.

As I left empty handed I walked past the opening summer display, replete with two, yes two, plastic 4 litre drinks dispensers – oh my giddy aunt, but the computer had said no, well, in fairness, they weren’t kilner jars were they. You get my point…I’m not a one woman publicity machine, I don’t have the of the Telegraph features editor or the TV commissioning departments on my phone, what I do have is 25 years plus experience of knowing what customers want, not driven by cooking cooker solutions but by understanding what customers want.  It can’t be that hard, look at M&S, they were going south for years and have turned the ship around. They listen to their customers, give them what they want, with service, price, range, and availability on point (they can’t get a property deal over the line however….let’s not get political though).

I would gladly meet with Sharon White, walk a store or two unannounced, we’ve all seen the CEO store lists in the past, they’re like a royal visit, why does everywhere always smell of new paint?

The hairy arsed retailers, for the best part now laid to rest, did have one thing right, they visited stores morning noon and night and saw what customers saw, not what we from the creative side of life had just created but real retail.

Customers have an awful habit of being right, even if research is somewhat leading by its nature (surely not) – If JLP want to reverse their downward trajectory, it’s simple, listen to the customer and give them what they want. Yes we’re in the digital age, yes we all want things tomorrow, yes tomorrow not next week, however, if you want to compete with Amazon then compete with them, don’t offer a weak alternative. Omni channel is rammed down our throats, JLP have a good operation, but it needs to be fine tuned. Treat your stores as fabulous show rooms, encourage customers to browse and have Partners on hand to chat through options.  And then deliver their goods to them at home.

And finally, if you have paid your team handsomely in the past, treated them as Partners, long service leave, jollies to company owned retreats, then how can you blame them for giving poor service when all of that starts being removed and the famous bonus has gone south..

it’s not their fault, it’s poor leadership.

My door Dame Sharon remains open, we could trundle off on some store visits, be the customer and it could be the beginning of a fantastic new Partnership….