I love John Lewis but why should I shop there?
The retailer's latest campaign is like an advert for communism, writes John Lowery - fabulous in principle but there are a few associated downsides...
Many years ago, well before I could afford to shop at John Lewis, I stood waiting for a tube train at Oxford St. station. There was a cross-track poster before me. It listed 20 or 30 facts that distinguished John Lewis from its competitors.
I let two trains go by, so that I could finish reading it.
There was a fact about their returns policy. There was one about the guarantees on white goods. And another about the small army of retired folk that John Lewis employed to visit the stores of BHS, Bentall’s, Army and Navy and so on to check their prices were not lower. By the end of it I’d made sense of that near incomprehensible line, ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’.
I remember the emotional response - “If I ever get a pay rise, I want to shop at John Lewis. It seems like a decent company; the service will be good and I won’t get ripped off”. And I can remember the many thousands of pounds that, following that pay rise, I subsequently spent on fridges, freezers, radios, tellies, pots, pans, crockery, children’s paraphernalia, moth-proofing and whatnot.
(Just in case Professor Byron Sharp has removed his blinkers and earplugs - that’s another example of perceptions preceding behaviour.)
In recent years, I’ve been bombarded with John Lewis Christmas ads and all of the surrounding razzmatazz. None of them had anything like the same effect as that poster.
I may well be sailing straight into the wind of all the forensic work conducted by Les Binet and Peter Field and of all the effectiveness gongs that John Lewis has garnered but I’ve always pined for a fact upon which to pin my emotions. You know, a fact like the one in the Aldi telescope advert. It doesn’t have to be about price. I suspect that the angular resolving power of the John Lewis telescope is way better, meaning I could actually see the bluish tint of the Sea of Tranquillity but that suspicion is based upon facts learnt in the past and not the emotions of now.
And so to the emotions of the immediate present - the rebranding addition of & Partners and the new extravaganza of a commercial that embraces Waitrose - both coming at a time when, as we’ve all heard, John Lewis is in big trouble. Profits being zero. Pensions being reviewed. Shops being downsized. Shops being sold, in at least one case to the purveyor of much cheaper telescopes - Aldi. And 270 partners being made redundant.
Hats off to a company that thinks marketing can dig them out of that hole and I have no doubt that hearts of the middle-classes will swell but...
What is the ad telling anyone about John Lewis that they didn’t know before? What is the benefit for the shopper that springs from & Partners?
It’s like an advert for communism; fabulous in principle but there are a few associated downsides.
In this case, there’s the downside of price. When the business is haemorrhaging sales to online competitors, which bit of the ad is going to stop someone going online and buying, for example, a Bosch Classixx WTE84106GB condenser tumble dryer for £13 less from Appliances Direct?
Perhaps I’m mistaken, however. Perhaps the ad is aimed at the staff. Sorry, the & Partners. In which case, it strikes me as a quite an expensive way of banging the philosophical drum.
In the PR puff piece that accompanied the re-launch a spokeswoman said: “We are currently speaking to a small group of branch partners about proposals within our back-of-house operations to ensure a more efficient way of working.”
I wonder if they consulted the 270 people who have lost their jobs as to whether they should blow several million quid on that ad and the addition of & Partners. I’m guessing not and that sort of undermines the fact of & Partners.
With tumbleweed currently blowing down the high streets of Britain, please John Lewis, give me a meaningful fact so that I can turn my love for you into shopping with you.