You may have seen the recent announcement by the Managing Director of UK retailer John Lewis that they are looking to allow customers to collect purchases through other retailers as of next year. By taking this approach, together with their other online distribution channels it will allow them to create national coverage with 60-70 physical shops whereas in the past this would have required 200+ stores.
John Lewis has successfully positioned itself at the upper end of the market with their stores offering a premium experience of quality products, spacious viewing, items purchased across the store taken from each till and corralled for collection in one go at the customer collection point later. All in all a quality experience at a value point that is on a par with others, making it a destination shopping experience.
Whilst some of the more sensational headlines around the announcement implied that collections would be from John Lewis’ competitors, the challenge for John Lewis will be to find a way of ensuring that the customer receives their level of brand experience even at collection from another retailer.
Picking partners will be the challenge, and whilst it sounds a crazy idea if you just read the headlines it has been done before and very successfully. Take Apple as an example, they have created almost national coverage with just over 30 of their own stores by partnering with DSG (the owner of PC World, and Dixons in UK). Would DSG have been the obvious partner before the deal was done, probably not, however, they have created an Apple branded implant store in their stores which achieves a middle ground.
If we look at the approach from the other end of the telescope, then we are already used to buying say a Hackett, or a Richard James suit from John Lewis through their stores despite John Lewis also offering their own suits.
So what John Lewis is planning is really an extension of what we are already used to and so long as they get their brand match making right and find partners who are aligned then it is a savvy move and a great example of commercial innovation.