The news that John Lewis is expecting to make a profit of precisely zero will have all retailers quacking: if even the mighty JLP can be hit that hard then what hope is there for everyone else?
And they would be right to worry – but they should have been worried anyway. Retail is in a rapid state of flux, with many pressures, it would be unlikely that John Lewis wasn’t going to feel some of the earthquake’s tremors.
However, where retailers should take heart is in John Lewis’s response to the moving tectonic plates of retail. Rather than running around screaming and waiting to be hit on the head by the falling masonry of the retail apocalypse, it is investing. And one of the things they are investing in is people.
The John Lewis Partnerships – of John Lewis and Partners as it henceforth wants to be known – has always prided itself of the way it was run, with its staff having a stake in the profits of the business. While not quite the socialist dream, but Corbynesque whisker away from it, this has been one of John Lewis’s core strengths.
Investing in its people further and enabling them with technology, while looking at how to maximise everything from its store footprint to its increasingly bespoke goods all makes perfect sense.
For it is the people that make the difference in retail. While technology is eating into how old retail operates, it is also taking away the one key thing that everyone who shops wants: the human touch.
John Lewis is merely tapping into something that is increasingly becoming understood in the world of commerce: it is the combination of technology and people – and the nexus of the two – that are what will deliver the service culture that will be the differentiator between the winners and losers.
And the evidence is there. According to a new study, Are You Listening? The Truth About What Customers Want in a Digital World, human nature and the meaningful experiences that organisations create with customers actually drive digital behaviour.
Not surprisingly, the majority (61%) of respondents quoted in the study make purchasing decisions based on the quality of the product or service. The emotional connection and trust that businesses build with customers comes in second—ahead of price—because customers say they want to be heard. Seventy-four percent admit they are more loyal to a company if they can talk to a person—versus a machine—when they need assistance.
The people they come across are what can really lift sales.
Instead of looking at how technology is doing people out of jobs, perhaps it is time to look at how technology can work with people to offer the service culture that shoppers crave.
Amazon may well for from strength to strength, but like all great empires it will fall – and that downfall may well be sooner than any of us think. For what is missing from Amazon? The human touch.
Amazon’s model – and much of its success to date – has been driven precisely by its automaton nature: there were no people, just machines. That has changed a bit with reviews and asking other shoppers for help and advice, but essentially it is a big, metallic machine.
Perhaps the rise of the human touch is just what is needed. Shoppers want it. John Lewis recognises that. Bringing tech and people together might just be what is needed to change old retailers fortunes and put a smile back on it (human) face.