John Lewis’s greatest challenge – the omni channel customer experience!

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It is difficult to find anyone who does not like John Lewis. It is difficult to find anyone who does not trust John Lewis. The UK department store with the distinctive green and white logo has been the undisputed retail King of customer satisfaction for many many years. In my 42nd year, I can still recall as though it were yesterday my mum telling me how great John Lewis are – regularly purchasing things with the confidence that if something was wrong, they would take it back without any problem. Founded in 1864, the chain is known for its policy of “Never Knowingly Undersold” which has been in use since 1925.



Many have put the success of John Lewis down to its Partnership model – a business that is owned and run by its staff has a unique culture. This no doubt has a very positive and significant effect on the way it’s people behave. The undoubted ‘trustworthiness’ of the brand is also a key factor. Additionally I would argue that it is the ability of John Lewis to deliver a consistent customer experience – a consistently good customer experience – that has seen it stand out from its competition. Being recognised as one of the best ‘customer experience’ brands in the UK is a hugely positive thing – but the challenge is to sustain that position. In 2014, I believe that John Lewis are facing head on in to their greatest ever challenge – the challenge that has already put paid to the fortunes of many retailers – the omni channel experience.

Before I go any further, let me clarify the term ‘omni channel’. The best definition I have come across is as follows:

“Technology, processes and systems integrated and aligned so that every channel behaves in the same way, to the point it makes it difficult to distinguish between them”

The bit I like about this definition is the second part – ‘to the point it makes it difficult to distinguish between them’ – the phrase omni channel has entered the business dictionary because we, the consumer, have put it there – unknowingly!. Derived from the word Omnis which can mean all or universal, omni channel is our perception of everything an organisation does. We expect to be able to interact with an organisation in any way we want – whether it be in store, online, via a mobile, or on the telephone. Not only that, we expect to be able to use all of those channels in  any one transaction. The issue for businesses is that the consumer does not see a business as a series of interaction channels. The consumer sees a business as ONE BUSINESS – and as such, they expect that when we use the channel of our choice, it connects to the same business and will result in the outcome we need and expect.

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Today, John Lewis’s channels are not integrated. Whilst the John Lewis online offer may look exactly the same as it’s in store offer, the two channels do not operate in the same way – and this is the greatest threat they have ever faced. At the moment, the Golding family are experiencing the problem first hand, and as usual, I would like to share our experience with you.



Two years ago we purchased some garden furniture from John Lewis – a table and six chairs. Naomi spotted the set in our local John Lewis store, and thought it would be perfect for our little garden. Whilst the table and chairs were spotted in person, we actually purchased them online as they were not available at the time in store. Last year we noticed that the table and four of the five chairs were starting to discolour. One of the chairs has still remained the pristine white it was on the day it arrived. The remainder of the set has completely rusted. Last weekend, we decided to go back to John Lewis to voice our disapproval – it is quite clear that there is an issue with the finish of the furniture.

The in store experience was good – despite us not having the receipt. Naomi was told that we should bring the table and chairs back – the assistant agreed that it was not acceptable. Naomi could not remember if we purchased the set online or in store, but she was told not to worry – bring them in. When she got home, Naomi checked back through our records. Eventually she found the online order – which confirmed the table and chairs were not purchased in store. Naomi contacted John Lewis online – by telephone – to check what we should do. The experience was very different.

Naomi was advised that she could NOT take the table back to the store as it was not purchased in store. The in store and online businesses are different she was told. Not only that, Naomi was advised that no one could help her (on the Saturday she called) – she would have to wait until Monday to talk to someone about the issue. If Naomi had taken the table in store, she was advised that they would have sent her back home with it. This is quite clearly a demonstration of a business that is not joined up. This is a demonstration of a lack of channel integration. Whether the table is legitimately ‘returnable’ is not the issue here. The issue is that we purchased a table from John Lewis. We want to return the table – what difference should it make how we choose to return it. We do not see John Lewis online being any different to the store – John Lewis is John Lewis.

As I write this blog post, the issue has not yet been resolved. I am sure that John Lewis will accept the return, and that we will either receive a refund, or be allowed to select a replacement (the rusted table and chairs is not available for sale any more). Yet despite this fact, the feeling we will be left with is one of frustration and inconvenience. I used to think that dealing with John Lewis was easy and hassle free. I always used to think that no matter what, John Lewis would sort a problem out for me. I used to think that John Lewis would do anything to put my interests first. These thoughts have been dashed. Whether their channels are integrated or not, surely they can allow customers to return a purchase made online to a store – without going through hoops?!

Earlier this year I chaired a retail customer experience conference. The conference was opened by an interview with Andy Street – the Managing Director of Jon Lewis. During the interview, Mr Street spoke of John Lewis’s omni channel challenges – he is an impressive, honest and open business leader – he said the following:



“Multi channel and omni channel are different – multi is disparate, omni is joined up. The rigour around delivery of process in the omni channel world is what drives the customer experience”

Andy Street recognises how important it is to deliver seamless omni channel experiences, and he knows that they have someway to go to achieve that ambition – I only hope we do not lose faith with the brand we ‘love to love’ in the meantime.

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