John Lewis’ four steps for online success (and how you can apply them in your retail business)

John Lewis are undoubtedly one of the UK’s leading retail brands. Whether it’s their stellar reputation for customer service, or their long-awaited imaginative Christmas adverts, they seem to have the magic touch when it comes to connecting with their customers.

This post is part of our eCommerce Success 2015 series.

In the digital age, they’ve also managed to extend this success from their traditional stores to their digital business. Online now accounts for 30% of their revenues, representing around £1.5bn. 50% of their online customers also choose their Click & Collect service, 60% of whom choose to collect at their Waitrose stores, which drives further in-store footfall.

At the recent Internet Retailing Conference in London, I was lucky enough to hear Mark Lewis, John Lewis’ Director of Online, speak about their approach to online and what has driven part of their success.

1. Know your product and your customer

A good traditional retailer is meticulous about their products and their customer. The old adage is ‘retail is detail’. And with digital, online retailers have a huge amount of data at their disposal which can be used to highly personalise and adapt the customer experience.

Yet many retailers don’t use this and create a homogenised experience for all customers, with minimal changes to the site once it has launched. John Lewis use imagery and detail to create a high quality customer experience which is more conducive for the buyer. They invest in excellent photography and video to bring the product to life.

"If your site doesn't deliver brilliant imagery and content they'll probably leave” - Mark Lewis

Takeaway: Evaluate your imagery and customer experience to make sure you’re offering the detail customers expect

2. Apply the in-store standards online

A traditional retailer operates with routines. At a John Lewis store, before the doors open to the customers, staff walk through to check that everything in the store is as it should be. They make sure that displays are correct and that stock is replenished. How many online retailers operate such routines?

They implement similar routines online. Their team look over all key parts of the website analytics and user experience to make sure that the website is operating to it’s full potential. So they’ll look for spikes or dips in product sales, page views or bounce rates to quickly identify positive or negative trends.

Customer experience has become an important trend in digital this year - with other retailers like Asos and taking similar approaches.

Takeaway: Develop daily routines to monitor your KPIs to be able to quickly respond to changes in customer behaviour

3. Think Omni-channel

You need to allow customers to switch between online and stores easily. A customer may start their journey with you online at their laptop, but switch to their iPad in the evening, then switch to their mobile phone on the following day.

It’s clear that John Lewis has a clear strategy for their omni-channel experience across desktop, tablet and mobile. They were even named the top mobile retailer in 2015 - just ahead of Argos, Expedia, Amazon and M&S.

But your brand needs to be consistent and informative not only cross browser, but cross platform. And that includes your in-store experience as much as your online experience.

John Lewis are really innovating here. They’ve developed an app which supports a wishlist. Customers can add to their wishlist online and then quickly locate a product when they visit a store. Equally, they can easily add products to their wishlist in-store, using scannable barcodes, to then share and discuss products with family and friends at home. This is particularly relevant with big ticket items like sofas or furniture.

As customers begin to experience these innovations with the big brands like John Lewis, their expectations will rise across the board.

Takeaway: Think about how you can use innovative technologies to connect online and in-store experiences to enhance customer satisfaction and convenience

4. Empower your customers to use technology

Innovations are pointless unless they are relevant and customers will actually use them. There’s little point in investing in the wrong technologies, so it’s worth speaking with customers and benchmarking against others in your industry to understand which technologies will add the most value to customers and, in turn, your bottom line.

John Lewis enable technology by introducing services like Free Wi-Fi across their stores, iPad bars where customers can browse and scannable barcodes next to certain products which, when scanned within their app, take the customer to additional information such as video content and customer reviews.

The right innovations, with the right infrastructure, can make a real difference to the customer and thereby allow digital to add value to their experience.

Takeaway: Choose your innovations carefully. Start small but think big. Consult with customers and go for quality over quantity.


Clearly John Lewis are doing some amazing things, but in fairness they do have much bigger budgets than the average retailer.

However, the logic of their approach is still just as relevant for smaller retailers. By focusing on good retailing principals, and applying them in a way which is proportionate and relevant to your brand, customers and budget, you can take the right steps to deliver the best possible multi-channel experience for your customers and reap the benefits from enhanced customer loyalty and lifetime value.  

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