A quintessential British brand, the John Lewis Partnership, which operates John Lewis & Partners department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, was over a hundred years ahead of today’s marketing trend for UX and customer experience.
Since 1925, John Lewis has been famous for its ‘never knowingly undersold’ customer promise: the retailer promised to always match or better a lower price offered by a national high street competitor. While in August the company announced plans to replace this promise, the brand has continued to invest in the consumer experience with new services such as the Experience Desk, where customers enjoy a concierge-style shopping service, offering a variety of exclusive events and experiences open only to customers, and providing beauty treatments and technology training workshops.
With nationally acclaimed Christmas campaigns such as ‘the Man in the Moon’ and Elton John’s ‘The Boy & the Piano’, John Lewis strives to use marketing for a wider social purpose that unites audiences in a common cause. Its seasonal and major campaigns have raised awareness of climate change, loneliness in elderly people and the importance of diversity and inclusion.
The brand has retained its century-old appeal by adapting to global change through becoming an official partner of events such as the London 2012 Olympics, teaming up with charities and involving customers and employees in major organisational change.
Brilliant Employer Brand
What truly distinguishes the retailer from competitors – and most other UK brands – is their people focus, rather than just continual profit growth. They really value their people and treat their employees as customers whose opinions and experiences matter.
All John Lewis employees are known as ‘Partners’ and have a say in how the business is run, through an employee-owned co-operative, which has been running since 1929. Through the Partnership, employees have power over giving themselves bonuses and bonus, akin to a share of the profit.
From the beginning the company wanted to align employee interests and business success. The business’ founders recognised the importance of both reward and worker autonomy in employee engagement and productivity. This approach was particularly revolutionary given that the UK was coming out of the Victoria era of economic output and efficiency, with notable lack of any workers rights and appalling working and living conditions for millions of people.
Employee communication has been exceptional for over a hundred years. In 1918, the company began publishing a fortnightly newspaper to update staff on business progress, and implemented regular staff council meetings where workers could speak directly to business leaders with their problems, questions and ideas.
Historical employee benefits, which were revolutionary for the time, included:
- Industry-Leading Working Conditions – Between 1915 and 1920, John Lewis leaders shortened the working day, implemented commission systems, improved conditions in staff working and living areas and introduced three week’s paid holiday allowance a full two decades before UK legislation introduced the same benefits
- Unique Amounts of Time Off – Before Sunday trading laws were relaxed in 1994, John Lewis shops closed on Mondays to allow staff a full two-day “weekend”.
Current benefits include:
- Flexibility – Flexible workings hours with ‘time banking’ options to facilitate work/life balance
- Discounts – Money off Waitrose and John Lewis products at up to 25%
- Free Leisure & Entertainment – Claim £60 a year towards concert and festival tickets
- Free Skills Education & Training – Claim £250 every year to learn a new skill or hobby
- Social Events – Large annual events at Legoland and Thorpe Park, and staff can visit VIP suites at the O2 and Wembley Arena
- Subsidised Food and Drink – Including discounted canteens at most sites
- Annual Bonus – For all staff, not just sales departments
- Wellbeing – Dedicated helpline for emotional and practical support, financial mediation, physiotherapy and counselling. Unmind is the company’s free health and wellbeing platform for all employees.
- Unmatched Holiday Accrual – Options to buy an additional week’s time off, and holiday allowance that rises with continuous services up to 30 days’ holiday. Older and more senior employees receive a staggering six months’ paid holiday after 25 years’ service.
The business has worked with employees to create a bespoke constitution that outlines organisational values as well as ways of working, employee rights and protections. The company have won many awards and accolades for their engagement and reward programmes, including ranking no.8 on Indeed’s list of Top 10 Private Sector Employers in the UK in 2018, above Unilever and Marks & Spencer.
A Truly Socially & Environmentally Responsible Company
The John Lewis Foundation was established in 2007 and focuses on driving sustainable charge for individuals and communities around the world, with a particular focus on education for disadvantaged groups. The Foundation helps more than 500 children through school in developing countries, helping to eradicate child labour in India, offers training for ex-offenders to get them back into work.
In addition to the Foundation, the Christmas advert of 2019 raised the money to provide 500,000 meals through FareShare, a charity that distributes food to those in need and creates jobs and career paths for unemployed people, and the brand has pledged a pop-up shop for St Peter’s Hospice in its Bristol stores, free of charge. Employees are able to give money to charity
John Lewis is also at the forefront of environmental sustainability in both its products and its services. In the past year alone, the company has banned 5p single-use plastic bags, replaced bubble wrap with eco-wrap, enabled customers to return hangers and packaging for reuse in exchange for gift vouchers, and introduced eco-delivery options for John Lewis-owned Waitrose and John Lewis delivery services. The brand has committed to sustainable innovation in the next year, with Waitrose pledging to stop selling plastic toys in Christmas crackers and John Lewis announcing ‘hand down’ labelling to its own-brand babywear and children’ clothing products to reduce landfill and carbon footprint. The company have set themselves the ambitious target of net zero carbon by 2050.
Diversification through Difficulty
Amid what has been described as the ‘worst year for retail in 25 years’, John Lewis did not escape the damage of online behemoths such as Amazon and the economic uncertainty of Brexit that has been driving a slowdown in consumer spending. Despite being the third largest UK non-traded company by sales, John Lewis’ profits fell for the third year in a row, in 2019.
As a long-established company, the brand has aimed to diversify its image to broaden its audience and become more inclusive, especially in recent years. John Lewis has begun to transcend its original purpose as an ‘upmarket’ retailer offering the highest quality to middle-class consumers, by introducing ‘Value’ and ‘Essential’ ranges and continually improving these through shopper insights through customer loyalty cards. More efficient delivery services and more sustainable product innovation, such as packaging-free food and drink options including refills, are helping the retailer to adapt to unstable political and economic environments whilst keeping customer service at the heart of business.
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