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EDITORIAL From John Lewis to Boohoo: how retailers are developing their strategies to meet shifting customer demand

John Lewis has prioritised making it easy for customers to collect their online orders

John Lewis is continuing its quest to stay relevant at a time when more of its sales take place online. In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter we report on how it is planning to close eight more stores in response to that shift – reversing in part its previous strategy of taking its products as close to its customers as possible through store openings. Now it’s exploring avenues including delivery, branches of its sister supermarket Waitrose and in-store experiences in order to get closer to customers through a £1bn, five-year digital-first strategy. Over the pandemic it has seen well over half of its its sales take place online, and it is predicting that up to 70% of its sales will take place online in the future. 

The logic of that strategy makes sense in the light of figures from the ONS today that show ecommerce gaining a record share of the market. That’s in a month in which non-essential UK shops are once more closed in a third lockdown – and according to the Local Data Company, only 17% of shoppers were deemed essential. The shift online during the pandemic – and the damage that lockdowns are causing to shops – will be a factor in the government’s consideration of whether to implement an online sales tax, although that decision has now been put off until the autumn budget. 

But given that it’s probably now not long until non-essential shops can reopen – in April – does it still make sense to be closing stores? Guy Elliott of Publicis Sapient argues in today’s guest comment that shoppers will be more than eager to get back into shops once they reopen – and says it’s about getting the experience right for them, wherever they choose to buy. 

John Lewis, indeed, says it’s finding new ways to get close to its customers, and that includes virtual events, delivery to a convenient point, and sales in branches of Waitrose. That may not work for all its customers – some will no doubt find somewhere else to shop. But, as always, it’s question of balancing the way customers want to buy with the way that makes financial sense for the retailer to sell. 

Today we report as Boohoo publishes its UK suppliers list as part of a move towards a sustainable supply chain and launches its sustainability plan. In doing so, the retailer is responding to public opinion as well as press and shareholder interest – and sustainability is now much more of a concern than in previous years. In responding so fully it is now setting a standard that others will no doubt follow in the future. 

And we report as mostly female store workers at Asda have won the latest part of their equal pay claim, with a Supreme Court judgement that says they can compare their wages to those of the mostly male workers in distribution centres. 

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