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How can you keep a department store relevant?




In the U.K., there are two parts to the John Lewis Group. The first is the John Lewis department store chain, while the other element is the countrywide Waitrose food retailing chain. And while there is some crossover in the shape of food halls in a few of the big stores, with products from the grocery operation, the two have always been pretty discrete as far as shoppers are concerned.

Now this is changing and under the “stronger together” banner, parts of John Lewis are appearing in Waitrose stores and vice versa. Practically, this can be seen in the newly opened Waitrose branch in Lincoln, the somewhat isolated city that marks the dividing line between “the north” and “the south” of England.

There can be little doubt that the store is a food retail outlet, but then it is also home to a 3000-square-foot John Lewis mat where the shopper is almost immediately transported to the environs, in terms of look and feel, of one of the group’s department stores. The transition between the two is affected by making the ends of many of the aisles in the store’s food area repositories for kitchen and cookwares.

It’s a soft and subtle way of bonding the two together without any form of obvious jarring or disjoint, and it takes the shopper on a journey from one to the other in a manner that helps build connection and loyalty in equal measure.

This is a trial, or something close to it, for the John Lewis Group, and it seems a good way of making sure that, at a moment when others are wondering what to do with large and lumbering department stores, the large shops that form part of this organization remain relevant. It also has the merit of being relatively simple, and others could do a lot worse than taking a look at what is being done here.   

John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.





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