Friday 31 July 2020 3:38 am

DEBATE: Is the plan to revitalise John Lewis likely to be a success?

Emma Revell is head of communications at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
and Andrew Busby
Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections and an author

Is the plan to revitalise John Lewis likely to be a success?

Emma Revell, head of communications at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says YES.

Bricks and mortar retail was in decline well before coronavirus hit and large department stores were struggling to afford sky-high rents on their enormous buildings. 

By recognising the changes in the public’s shopping habits and seeking to turn non-viable shops into housing, John Lewis is showing the kind of flexibility many businesses and local authorities seem to lack when it comes to creating high streets fit for the Amazon era. 

Injecting life back into our town centres with increased housing will bring shoppers and shops closer together, so those which offer something the internet can’t will have consumers literally on their doorstep. The move will also create much-needed residential space where otherwise shops would sit — dark and dormant — blighting the high street and contributing to astronomical residential rents.

These plans may well enable John Lewis to survive and indeed thrive as our shopping habits change — and for the benefit of our housing sector we can only hope other high street brands follow suit.

Read more: John Lewis may convert department stores into affordable housing

Andrew Busby, founder of Retail Reflections, says NO.

I read the John Lewis strategy update with increasing alarm.

We already knew that, having had no previous retail experience, the appointment of Dame Sharon White as chair was a bold move. What was needed was a steady hand on the tiller. Instead, the partners are now faced with being dashed on the rocks aboard a perfectly healthy vessel.

A £100m reduction in head office costs along with a shift to private rented affordable housing, a gardening business, renting products and selling on second-hand items does not sound like a formula for success.

Rather, it resonates of the polar opposite, of diluting the brand. 

Buried at the end of the update was the news that White is forging partnerships with other businesses which “bring resources or capabilities we don’t have”. This hints more at an aloof, corporate, profit-first entity — not the warmth, empathy and trust that have been hallmarks of the company.

Something much closer to the core values of John Lewis is required. This isn’t just a strategy update, this is a requiem for the Partnership as we knew it.

Read more: A digital tax is no way to reward our innovative online retailers

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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