The retail barometer

Recent headlines, as an example from the BBC, “Coronavirus: John Lewis and Boots to cut 5,300 jobs” is quite frankly inaccurate. Any closure on the high street is a great loss, and the job loss impact on so many is devastating. But in terms of association, it would be more accurate for reporters to add, “Covid: A symptom but not the cause”.

A shift and trend (for years) to more online shopping has been a game of catch up for many, and too many slow to respond. And yes, recently we’ve experienced a never before experienced (in my lifetime anyway) worldwide pandemic. A John Lewis capsule store at an airport terminal or a department store on top of a railway station were very ambitious projects. I worked on the design of both in some shape and form, and proud what we and the Partnership achieved.

The entrepreneurism of John Spedan Lewis has prevailed a long time and will remain an integral part of the John Lewis DNA of the future. Gutsy that they explored and tried these formats rather than stood still (and I’m sure many learnings). Setting the bar high is positive, and fundamentally requires joined up strategies and design par excellence, otherwise no matter how impeccable the individual components, it’s always going to be boxing on the ropes.

Boots has for many years been ordinary and not strategically agile enough. Introducing beauty studios, Instagram points, and exposed ceilings doesn’t add up to ‘an innovative consumer experience’ (their words) but a cosmetic response to seismic shifting trends. And as a brand and product offering, I’m not even sure an innovative consumer experience was the answer.

As Winston Churchill suggested ‘never waste a good crisis’, and many global businesses will see and use the current pandemic as an opportunity to push through with little resistance sweeping changes. Others should dust themselves down, and trigger with more reason than ever before, with advancing forward with chess master-like strategies, real estate prowess, design agility, digital and physical alignment, and boldness rather than safety.

As many have said, but to quote Aneurin Bevan, “We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road…”