Ex Tesco boss to make John Lewis more Metro

The retailer will prioritise convenience over destination shopping, emulating Tesco’s local store model.

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The outgoing chair of John Lewis has said the firm is “underrepresented in convenience” as it aims to answer the growing customer need for localised, more convenient shopping.

Sharon White, who will retire from the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) this September, confirmed that convenience is now a priority for the company, and that a “bigger presence” for its John Lewis and Waitrose brands is needed within the sector.

White’s replacement will be the ex-CEO of Tesco, Jason Tarry. As head of the retail titan, Tarry was previously responsible for one of the UK’s largest convenience store footprints.

Big plans for Little Waitrose

JLP, which has its own ‘Little Waitrose’ small shop format, targeted the convenience sector last year, when it partnered with Uber Eats to enable on-demand grocery deliveries.

In March, executive director James Bailey then confirmed Waitrose was planning to open its first new stores in over a decade as part of the move. He said he was “confident that we’ll be announcing [new] shops, especially Little Waitrose”.

It’s an industry that Tarry already has experience in. Through its Express and Metro store formats, Tesco accounts for 30% of the UK convenience sector.

The retail juggernaut previously stated that one of its company goals is to be “easily the most convenient for our customers [who] continue to expect better, faster, integrated digital retail to make shopping easier.” It opened its 2,000th Tesco Express store last year.

In a press release announcing his appointment to the John Lewis board, Tarry said he was “looking forward to deliver[ing] its clear strategy.”

The shift in business objectives comes after a period of financial difficulty for the retail brand. After a £234m loss in 2022. JLP published a pre-tax profit of £56m in March. It began amping up hiring, and shared a full list of interview questions to fast-track talent acquisition.

White’s latest comments suggest these recruitment efforts will also support the company’s expansion into convenience stores.

Less is more in modern retail

John Lewis is not the only company that’s chasing Tesco Express success in 2024. Ikea UK confirmed it would open up a high street store on London’s Oxford Street in spring 2025.

The Swedish firm is famous for its giant warehouses which can take customers an entire day to trek through, including a 1.3 million square foot distribution centre in Doncaster, England. But its new central London location will be just 85,000 square feet.

The industry shift is answering calls for smaller, more frequent purchases from customers. Despite volume sales decline, the convenience sector grew by an estimated 5.3% in 2023.

Younger buyers are driving the trend. This group is used to streamlined, tech-driven online shopping. When it comes to buying in-store, they expect a similarly speedy experience.

46% of Gen Z consumers said a “quick and easy checkout” was their top concern when making a purchase in a report from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

High street woes

The rise in on-the-go purchasing is reflected in today’s flailing high street. Numerous UK brands have gone into administration as the rise in ecommerce curbed appetites for in-store shopping. In February, retail footfall was found to be 11.5% down on 2019 levels.

In this context, local convenience stores are proving more successful than larger outlets. As shoppers stay at home to shop, they are less likely to visit a warehouse or department store.

Yet, they will still pop to the corner shop to make an impulse purchase; something one in ten Brits reportedly now does every time they leave the house.

Small businesses are, naturally, well positioned to capitalise on these customer insights. As buyers ask for ways to fit shopping into their busy daily lives, they will increasingly search for local stores with product lists they already know and that answer a specific need.

Still, competition for footfall within the UK high street remains high, and tech will be vital for outpacing rivals. Retailers should look into adopting smart payment technologies and AI-powered tools to take advantage of the trend towards smaller, on-demand shopping lists.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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