I have never had a Christmas Down Under, but John Lewis gave me a good impression this Tuesday when it held its Christmas in July press preview on a day when the sun was beating down.
The hospitality was generous, the company charming and the array of Christmas goodies all too tempting (happily for my cash flow, none of it was for sale). One of the surprising bits of info imparted was that this year, John Lewis will be selling real Christmas trees for the first time - but only online, not through its 40-odd stores.
The group is expecting another bumper festive season performance through its slick omnichannel network. It expects the click-and-collect service to outperform the home delivery option for the first time, another indication - in case one was needed - that the competitive landscape of British retailing is developing in a fast and fluid way.
John Lewis’s ebullient managing director Andy Street stressed the benefits of having 42 stores - including the latest in Heathrow’s Terminal 2 - give it a huge advantage over its pure-play rivals. The imminent opening of a compact unit at London St Pancras will add yet another twist to its impressive list of options - a ‘click-and-commute’ concept. As I travel through the station every weekday, I shall expect to see plenty of John Lewis bags and boxes in the near future.
The shop that currently gets most of my business at the station is one of the two Marks & Spencer food stores. Like many people I know, I am an avid fan of M&S’s grub and booze, but am almost never tempted to look at its clothes. The unexpected announcement this week of promotions for multichannel chief Laura Wade-Gery and marketing supremo Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, plus a raft of other moves may not go very far in getting me to change my attitude. It shows, however, that M&S is putting multichannel in the driving seat of the entire business. But as Andy Street will tell you, a good online experience must start with a good store experience - and that’s what M&S still lacks on fashion and the rest of “general merchandise”.
The week has also been enlivened by not one but two apparently complicated potential takeover attempts, namely Sports Direct wanting to acquire fashion footwear chain Office and Mothercare being wooed (if that’s the word) by a similar American outfit called Destination Maternity (a candidate for The Least Attractive Trading Name of the Year Award).
The Philadelphia-based firm - “an easy, one-stop shop for any mom-to-be and her baby” - is reportedly the world’s largest retailer of maternity apparel and, interestingly enough, its home page promotes that it ships to the UK. Mothercare has rejected the £266m bid, but the Americans may not take no for an answer.
The story about Sports Direct wishing to buy Office is as convoluted as most things Mike Ashley gets involved with. After Sports Direct issued a statement on Monday denying any interest, by Tuesday we learned, allegedly, that Adidas was blocking the bid. Along with Schuh and the JD stable, Office is one of the best multi-brand footwear operators in the UK and would be a great prize for Ashley to claim, but it’s unlikely to be a popular move with many other brands besides the one with the three stripes.
Finally, many congratulations to all the winners and finalists in this week’s PayPal Etail Awards, which Drapers organises with Retail Week. The best performer, with four awards, was white goods etailer AO.com, but there are some great fashion businesses among the prizes too, including Topshop and House of Fraser. See here for the full results.