John Lewis is still a leader in retail experience design.
How has it changed over 150 years?
Everyone knows John Spedan Lewis as the founder of the John Lewis Partnership, which sees the partnership of John Lewis department stores and Waitrose. However his father, John Lewis opened the first store on Oxford Street in the spring of 1864. As a draper by trade, John Lewis stocked 50 different types of black fabric, which may seem a bit much for us now, but in the Victorian era it was not only a fashionable colour but funeral wear was common due to widespread death. This shows us that John Lewis was an original retail experience designer — he understood what his customers wanted and responded accordingly. This attitude was taken on by John Speden Lewis (JSL) and set the principles for the way John Lewis runs today — choice, value and service.
Since this, John Lewis stores have been at the forefront for retail design. In the early 20th century JSL wanted to renovate the architecture of the stores. He wanted to bring them into the modern era, and less reflect the traditional Victorian and Edwardian designs. Significant investment was put into the renovation of key stores in 1937 including Peter Jones in Sloane Square with the new curved glass facade. This provided lots of daylight and large, flexible open-plan retail spaces. This attitude is still evident today, with the design of the Leicester store completed by Foreign Office Architects in 2008.
As part of the 150 year celebrations earlier this year, John Lewis set up JLABS, a technology incubator for start ups. With a focus on consumer technology innovations, the selected teams would work alongside John Lewis leaders and external mentors including Stuart Marks and Bindi Karia, to develop their products and solutions. Five were selected to form a shortlist and were given £12,500, an office space in Canary Wharf and had just 12 weeks to impress. The final pitches were last week with the hope of their product being used in store and a further £100,000 of investment.
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