With a high-tech new homewares department at its flagship store, John Lewis is hoping to revolutionise the way homemakers shop
Revolution is a strong word, especially when applied to home furnishings, but that’s exactly what John Lewis is promising. On September 3, the company unveils a £14 million makeover of its home department at its flagship Oxford Street store – a first step in what it hopes will reshape the way Britain’s homemakers shop.
The revamp will enable the department store to showcase more products than ever before. But rather than heading to traditional shop-floor departments – to lighting for a new lampshade, for example – customers will be invited to walk around a series of ‘room sets’ to get a practical feel for what looks could be achieved.
Twenty-five different room sets will be regularly updated to give customers new ideas, with the interiors floors split into separate, distinct ‘room’ environments. The light room will house 650 different lighting models; across the hallway in the fabric room shoppers will have a choice of more than 12,500 different curtain fabrics; the living room will offer over 100,000 different combinations of sofa shapes and fabrics; and the carpet room will have a rug gallery. The emphasis will be on offering ideas and inspiration.
“The role of the shop is changing,” says Christine Kasoulis, buying director for home at John Lewis. “It’s much more important to provide an inspiring environment than it used to be. We’re seeing people doing quite a lot of research online before coming into the store, where it’s about touching things and trying them out.”
And spending money, of course. The Oxford Street interiors department is being reimagined as an extension of John Lewis’s website and home catalogue (the latest edition will be available in stores from Monday). Kasoulis is hoping that this “clicks and mortar” approach to homeware will further cement the store’s dominance of the sector; its market share has been growing steadily for the past five years.
“Our ambition is to become the go-to destination if you’re doing any sort of decorating,” adds Kasoulis. “From here, you can do everything that you could possibly want to do. You will be able to re-design your entire home.”
At the centre of the 94,000 square foot space is a design studio that straddles two floors and, fittingly, is shaped like a house. It will play host to a specially trained team of interior designers. Slicing a massive hole through floors of prime selling square footage is a bold statement of intent. Not only does it create some retail theatre, it also puts the store’s revamped home design service back in the spotlight.
Customers have long been able to get John Lewis to put in a new kitchen or hang a made-to-measure set of curtains – but from next month, this will be vastly expanded to include everything from home lighting systems to bespoke wine cellars. “It’s something we’ve always done, but it was hidden away before and no one really new about it,” says Kasoulis. While in-store advice is free, there is a charge for a more advanced interior design service that takes place within customers’ homes, although the fee is redeemable against purchases.
John Lewis is also striving to make more of its products customisable. You will soon be able to have a rug made in a shape, size and colour of your choice, or order dining chairs that fit your own specifications. “Customers have a real desire for individuality and we are offering these services in response to that,” says Kasoulis. “There are lots of different options, but trained advisors will be on hand to guide people.”
Technology plays a vital role in the store’s overhaul. A three-minute test gauges a customer’s interior design style and delivers an instant moodboard of product suggestions (a road test proved it to be much more than just a gimmick). A new augmented reality app will allow customers to visualise pieces of furniture in situ on their phone or tablet screen.
It’s all very eye-catching and thoroughly modern, but isn’t there a danger that the more traditional John Lewis customer will find some of the home ‘improvements’ more off-putting than inspiring? Kousoulis is unconcerned: “We’re the leaders in home, so if anyone’s going to introduce people to new trends it should be us. We will still have the classic, heartland John Lewis look, and it’s really important that we don’t scare our core customer. They will just find the shop much easier to navigate.”
She can afford to be confident. Some of the new ideas have already been successful road-tested in the first ‘John Lewis at Home’ store, a standalone outlet that opened in Horsham, Surrey, last month. Potential sites for further Home stores are already being scouted. In the meantime, the new home department on Oxford Street will lay down a blueprint to be followed by other John Lewis shops across the country.
Customers can expect to find more of the colourful, boldly patterned products that proved to be bestsellers this summer, and an increased emphasis on contemporary styles, as championed by head of design, Philippa Prinsloo.
“People are becoming bolder with their choices because they are exposed to many more ideas thorough social media than they were before, and that’s enabling us to be braver,” she says.
Prinsloo has also been taking a punt on emerging design talent, such as furniture maker Tom Raffield, who has made striking lamps from sustainably sourced wood from Cornwall, and Genevieve Bennett, who has designed an eye-catching rug with echoes of the bespoke leather wallcoverings she has made her signature.
The department store has also linked up with the Craft Council to identify rising British makers, who have produced exclusive products for the store. Standouts include hand-thrown pottery by David Partington, knitted cushions by Jules Hogan and fireside tool made by Red Anvil Forge in Devon.
“The new designers add another layer of interest to our collection and it’s nice to be able to celebrate the handmade,” says Prinsloo. “Everyone wants their home to feel unique and we are here to help them achieve that.”
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