John Lewis has appointed Pippa Wicks from the Co-op Group as executive director for John Lewis, a job in which the key challenge will be to ensure that the department store stays relevant as shoppers move further online following the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the new role, which she starts in August, Wicks will be responsible for trading, merchandising, marketing and developing propositions for John Lewis both online and in its shops. That means she’ll be leading the multichannel strategy at a retailer faced with the challenge of finding new relevance for its department stores as they recover from the side-effects of Covid-19 while dealing with the wider shift from stores to online.
Most John Lewis’ 50 shops were closed as a result of the coronavirus lockdown and are now just starting to return to full operations. But the retailer has been working to find new ways to make John Lewis’ stores relevant for some time as, as sales at department stores shifted online faster than in other categories.
Until recently, led by former managing director Paula Nickolds, John Lewis’ strategy was firmly on in-store experiences. Innovations in recently-opened stores have included concierge services aimed at helping shoppers get the most out of a host of workshops, demonstrations and events. Its most recent store opening in Southampton (pictured) was designed to explore the role of the shop through new ‘experience playgrounds’. The store, taking a customer-centric approach to retailing, allowed shoppers to experiment with products from make-up to gadgets, to take cookery classes in the first Waitrose Cookery School to be located within a John Lewis & Partners shop, and to attend specialist talks on gardening on its roof garden, or to take part in pop-up workshops.
But post-Covid 19, and as John Lewis’ in-store experiences have moved online, albeit to a limited extent, it seems that John Lewis will have to go back to the drawing board and rethink how the retailer can stay relevant to customers who want to stay safe at a social distance.
There were some hints of how that new relevance might emerge in this week’s announcement.
Sharon White, partner and chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, welcomed Wicks’ experience of leading and developing online and in-store products and services. “As we emerge from the pandemic, there is tremendous opportunity for John Lewis to play an even bigger role in people’s lives,” she said. “I am confident that under Pippa’s leadership the brand will continue to thrive.”
Wicks said: “As the executive director responsible for the John Lewis business I look forward to working closely with partners to steer through these extraordinary times in society and I retail. As the biggest employee-owned business in the UK and one of the biggest in the world there is an opportunity to provide both exceptional service for customers as well as really meaningful work for partners.”
Wicks’ appointment is part of a management merger at John Lewis and Waitrose that was first announced last October. James Bailey joined as executive director of Waitrose in April.