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Memo from Musgrave: The best things in life aren’t free at John Lewis

After the chaotic mayhem of last November’s Black Friday online boom abated, Andy Street, the astute managing director of John Lewis, was the first retailer of significance to say enough is enough.

Even though the store group managed to deliver all that was required of it during the busiest 24 hours of its 150-year history, the sharp-minded Brummie spoke for all sensible traders when he said it was wrong to concentrate so much trade in such a small period.

At the beginning of this year, he added that he hoped 2014 would be a high water mark for the promotional whirlwind. “I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle but do we need to stoke that fire any more?” he asked. Judging by his address to a party of journalists, including me, on Monday evening this week, he has had to reconsider his expectations.

This year’s Black Friday falls on November 27 – as always, the last monthly payday before Christmas – and Street, when pushed, suggested that across the market we might see an amazing 20% leap over even last year’s bonkers performance. With admirable understatement he said the imported discount-fest would present “a huge challenge” to the company, but he was convincing in asserting that its distribution centre at Milton Keynes would oversee a faultless delivery schedule.

Continuing his “enough is enough” stance, the dapper Street announced to us hacks that from the end of July free click-and-collect would remain for orders of £30 and above, but a £2 charge would be applied to ones below that level (see page 3). Market practices in ecommerce were “unsustainable”, he forcefully asserted.

What JL’s army of devoted shoppers will think to this modest imposition will be interesting to follow. Is it meant to be a serious attempt to recoup some ecomm costs or merely a token gesture to remind consumers that, actually, the best things in life are not free in the tough word of retailing? Within hours of the news breaking, resourceful colleagues at Drapers Towers had worked out ways to get around the cost, such as ordering more than £30 of stuff and immediately returning in store what you didn’t want.

Comments on our social media channels have suggested that some Drapers readers feel John Lewis is trying it on, arguing that the click-and-collect deliveries are just part of the normal delivery run to the stores. 

It would be a mischievous person to suggest that from the end of July, when the new rules are applied, the multi-Drapers Award-winning store group will be Knowingly Oversold when it comes to delivery charges as I do not expect many other firms to follow its lead – yet. I am more inclined to believe they will wait to see how things play out for John Lewis. 

I don’t like to be the bearer of woeful tidings, but it is only 21 weeks until Black Friday, so if you haven’t yet decided your strategy for this ridiculous American creation, you’d better start thinking fast.

On a personal note, this week the Drapers family has a tear in its collective eye as it bids farewell to its two longest-serving journalists, deputy editor Ana Santi and chief sub-editor Steve Draper (we did not hire him because of his surname). Both started with the title in 2008 and have now decided that it is time to get a proper job. Ana is heading to Jigsaw, where she will be editor-in-chief of the chain’s website, while Steve will be applying his eagle eye to copy at The Guardian. They have been fantastic assets to The Mighty Drapers and the industry we serve. We wish them lots of luck for the future.    

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