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Why John Lewis closures affect the heart not the head

23 March 2021

All brands work hard at their image. What comes to mind when you think of Volvo? Yup, same as me.

Some firms prefer the ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ approach to deliver ‘value’, others are keener that we perceive them to provide an immersive, relaxed and ‘quality’ experience. So why all the fuss about the closure of part of the John Lewis ‘fleet’?

The group announced last July it was closing stores in Birmingham, Croydon, Watford, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth, as well as the smaller hubs at St Pancras and Heathrow. But it’s not just the impact the removal of these stores will have on the integrity and attraction of out of town and city centres, there’s something else at play which provokes a more unusual reaction.

John Lewis began expanding exponentially in 2007. Since then it has re-planted itself in the British consciousness through an aggressive and attractive advertising campaign, continuing and expanding it’s ‘never knowingly undersold’ campaign and it’s well respected Christmas ad.

So, it seems, the closures could be affecting us on an emotional level and not just as a purely practical ‘where can I now get my haberdashery?!’ kind of way. And here’s a lesson for all brands who are looking for traction with their consumers. How can you persuade an otherwise cynical and sophisticated public of the efficacy of your offer? John Lewis have done it through developing hugely pleasant stores in which to shop and – critically – through creating a perception of quality, even if some of their ‘Trust Pilot’ reviews are shockingly poor.

Overall, the public’s perception of your brand needs to invoke a reaction. A shrug or a ‘so what?’ means no one cares if you’re there or if you’re not. John Lewis may well find it tougher to maintain their profile with fewer stores. This physical manifestation and chance to enjoy a tactile experience helped hugely. With more online interaction

they may become no different than other retailers with consumers using price as the clincher and not, necessarily, after sales or ‘user experience’.

The message is the same, though, brands weren’t built in a day. It takes rigorous focus and constant re-invention to carve out your own niche and cut through in today’s crowded market. That needs attention to detail. The result might even be called love.