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John Lewis: power to the partner

A building block of multichannel retail

A building block of multichannel retail

John Lewis has embedded mobile technology at the heart of its digital strategy. Its flagship innovation, being rolled out this year at a cost of £4million, is an iPhone app for partners that it believes will greatly improve customer service. But its commitment goes further, with the company expanding its investment in the brainstorming of disruptive technologies through its start-up accelerator programme.

As anyone who has shopped in a John Lewis store will know, any question about a product, whether it be colour options, how it works, or whether it’s in stock, is usually met with the news that a partner will have to go to the nearest sales desk to check on the computer and will be back in a minute. But this abandoning of customers on the shop floor is being replaced with the roll-out to 8,000 partners in 20 stores of an iPhone loaded with a ‘partner app’ that will enable staff to check stock availability and other details of products on the spot. Partners will also be able to place orders through the app.

Designed and built by the John Lewis Partnership’s in-house digital team, the app is being rolled out following a successful trial in the Cambridge store, which received positive customer feedback and according to John Lewis customer director, Craig Inglis, significantly speeded up response times to customer queries. During the trial, more than half of the online purchases made in store with the help of a partner were made via the app.

“As online and physical worlds increasingly come together, this initiative, which forms the foundation of our digital strategy for shops, will support our partners in offering great customer service,” noted Inglis. “This is just the beginning. We will keep adding to the partner app in the future with new, innovative ways to help our customers.”

In the company’s year-end results to 28 January 2017, it acknowledged that the continued shift from shopping in the store to online represented one of the biggest trading pressures for the year ahead, but with online sales up by 16.2% on the previous year (shop sales were down 1%) this is a bull the company is ready to take by the horns. To this end, it has decided this year to expand its start-up accelerator programme JLAB, run in association with JL Marks, by including Waitrose in the project. The 12-week programme invites young tech companies with brilliant ideas to tap into development funds and the partnership’s retail expertise, in exchange for a share in the company. Innovations that have come out of the scheme in the past include cross-channel wedding service Wedding Planner and a program to show how furnishings could look in a customer’s home.

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