I’ve noted before how the leadership teams that took retailers into the pandemic will not be the same as those that lead their recovery. This is especially true of retailers most disrupted by Covid-19 – specifically those whose heritage is in stores and who sell discretionary items likes homewares and fashion.
John Lewis ticks each of these boxes and so it’s not surprise to see the retailer step up the reorganisation of its senior team as it attempts to reposition the business to prosper in a post-pandemic landscape.
The partnership has previously faced criticism for having a lack of seasoned retailers at the very top of the organisation (its latest non-executive director appointment, Nish Kankiwala, is also short on mainstream retail experience having spent his career with the likes of PepsiCo, Unilever and Burger King).
Short of recruiting a series of retail heavyweights to board-level roles this perception is unlikely to shift any time soon and so it’s up to those in post, both old and new, to start delivering the turnaround in results that shows John Lewis still understands what it is consumers want in this new retail era.
A core part of its strategy is to rebalance the business to take advantage of the consumer shift to digital channels that has accelerated during the pandemic and is set to sustain, if not at pandemic levels, than far higher than pre-Covid.
In this context, arguably the headline hire from its latest round of three appointments is that of Steve Masterton as director of online trade. Masterton has joined from rival Dunhelm where he worked for five years as digital director during a period of aggressive online growth, having previously spent eight years at Arcadia working in ecommerce roles across the Burton & Evans and BHS brands.
Despite recording the first full-year loss in its history during the past financial year, sales through Johnlewis.com last year climbed 73% to account for 75% of the total and have compensated for the loss of store sales more than the business expected. Online sales can be expected to fall back now that stores have fully reopened but it does at least give Masterton and his new colleagues a solid base to work from.
Perhaps a greater challenge faces Stephen Spencer who joins at the end of July as director of store of the future, a job title that tells us much about how John Lewis views the outlook for its current store estate.
The write-down in the value of John Lewis shops was a key reason for its £517m annual loss. Eight stores have already been mothballed with further closures anticipated.
Spencer, who is currently director of real estate and store development for activewear brand Lululemon, has a background in property strategy, acquisitions and store design, as well as experience of logistics roles.
With a CV that includes stints at Apple and Tiffany & Co, Spencer is no stranger to the more premium end of the retail market and, based on his rounded skillset, looks a good fit for John Lewis as it attempts to embed a new, more local, curated stores strategy that divides its portfolio into “destination stores” and smaller “service stores”.
Finally, the retailer has appointed Rosie Hanley, currently head of brand marketing at eBay, to fill the role of head of brand and marketing.
Differentiating online sales is always tougher than those in-store, especially for a generalist like John Lewis that views customer service as a unique selling point. This being the case, the task facing Hanley of modernising the brand amid the shift to online may just be toughest of all.