After the first half of our visit, I also considered the baby and toy categories within the John Lewis store.
Baby was a huge opportunity, given that Mothercare went west (because of fundamental mismanagement rather than people not having babies anymore), there is an ever growing gap for a mainstream retailer to be half decent at Baby.
Indeed; the John Lewis brand is such that it's trusted and with a small baby, trust is everything. Absolutely everything.
Quite why you'd add "everyday" in to the mix seems quite bizarre; especially when you consider that a Cot is traded under this sub brand, which is unknown and also, certainly no better than the core brand which is trusted.
Whatever the agreement, or disagreement with regard to Anyday (it does have a place for me, just not in a scattergun fashion) it remains unclear what problem it solves for the customer.
Indeed, the baby category in John Lewis solved very few problems for the customer, despite numerous opportunities to do so.
There is just so much potential to build a baby bag from the components sold within, on one end, rather than just siting the bags there and hoping for the best.
Baby monitors were sold with precisely no signage that explained any of the features, despite the plethora of options available these days.
The natural flow of the category meant that customers walking, somewhat aimlessly (as we all do) could miss key ranges due to their location.
It seems near madness to spend a small fortune on rent, rates, partners and the rest of it, but run stores so badly. Just the basics are all wrong in a category that is relatively simple to do well.
Clearance was also a huge problem; this store is a city centre store so the giant flatpack boxes are a real challenge to get to the adjoining car park, let alone in the car.
There is no hassle free delivery to solve that problem, just boxes upon boxes of flatpack furniture, with little idea of what it may look like built up, with varying reductions applied to the product range.
A display, just as you enter the category, featuring a mass of flatpack furniture told its own story I feel.
Toys were another huge issue; some of the wooden toys and cars etc were so thoughtfully designed and packaged, truly lovely, classic John Lewis.
But the layout was appalling, not remotely shopper focused, with zero fun, interactivity, or otherwise. Aisles laid out in uniform, straight lines and no real delineation between the various toys.
Very little on trend too notably. Whereas every other retailer is great at capturing the trends, John Lewis can ill afford to miss out on sales.
There's more than this sample too; this is c.40% of the email, we go in to further depth covering Baby with a number of suggestions for the future, alongside the own goals on Toys, too.
A sample of the 2nd part of our email is below:
Our part 2 of the John Lewis store visit. I had to split it over two emails given the length of the copy and indeed the imagery.
There were some areas of the store that were 'ok', clothing for example seemed fairly good. No major own goals in other areas but the Baby and Toys category were of most interest to me, as a relatively new father (5th time) only 14 weeks ago.
The closure of non-essential retail meant we had to order everything online, we did use a baby shop (a local, independent) who have looked after all of our needs for most of the kids.
Independents here have such an opportunity given their ability to get to know the customers and what they want, offer flexibility with payment plans and everything else that goes with it.
However, a good independent is one thing, there are plenty of others who don't do a good enough job, then blame John Lewis, or Amazon, for taking their trade.
It was never your trade to have. It never is. It's only on loan! You have to keep pushing expectations and service levels to maintain customer numbers and hopefully, grow.
John Lewis strikes me as a place that is good for baby, it's a trusted high street name and offers various strong guarantees on product. A place to encapsulate one strand of a growing, near unique high street offer (given the closure of Debenhams, Mothercare et al) is Baby.
Given that Mothercare went west and John Lewis has a strong brand equity, it seems an obvious place for parents to gravitate towards. I'm sure many do as well, the category was fairly busy when visiting.
However it was also such a relentless end of missed opportunity, wrong decisions and in some cases, near failure to look after the customer. True, its not the biggest department in the world but irrespective of that, there should be no concerns in this area.
People keep having babies and if the family trusts John Lewis, then there's an endless procession of visits for each event and the chances are, they'll go to John Lewis as they baby grows, first christening, gowns for parties, the list goes on and on.
As one enters the category, you are met with this.
I know they've been closed and as a result; there are issues with slower moving stock, but, what is it?
Why is it here?
There's too much clearance elsewhere which might explain it. But it's a city centre store with a car park nearby, but not so close. It's a heavy item, how do I get it to my car?
It's a stretch to get customers to buy from this range, like this. A clearance issue? Slow moving stock issue? They need to do a better job of trading it, this is just so bad.
Anyday makes an appearance in Baby too, which really surprised me; the John Lewis brand is trusted, Anyday must have a place and probably does in other areas, although it's a fine, fine balance between putting it everywhere and then it appealing to no one.
It should never be in baby; there's no inherent value issue in baby. People will generally spend a lot of money on various things for their precious bundle of joy.
Really not sure what Anyday brings to the party. There's a bigger risk, I'd argue, that customers may think it's a new generic brand, not linked to JL and thus, can it be trusted?
Great price, great quality would have stood under the John Lewis brand in Baby for me.
A nice room set up here; one can imagine their child sleeping in a bed / room such as this.
But where's the information? The product? Prices?
At first glance, it looks like a staged room. But every single thing should be purchasable here; it may well be. But at first glance, can I see it? Where are the products to pick up?
I'm not going to wander aimlessly around the category.
All that plastic!
Also Anyday sleep bags for Baby, point stands as above with regard to Cots. There is no need for Anyday to be used here. Sleep bags are important and you're not looking to save money here, nor are you looking for anything less than the John Lewis brand, either.
Pillows were also traded; too much plastic here also. Bedding below. It doesn't look great, there must be better ways to use the space. Where's the explanatory signage?!
Looks like an afterthought.
Not selling, are they even in stock? Which is good?
I'm blessed in that MrsD is a true expert on all things baby and knows the developments and the changes (that happen frequently!) But for new parents, or even grandparents wanting to help by buying functional things as gifts, perhaps.
There's no signage.
Nothing is demystifying this category, there's no metaphorical hand of guidance.
Another vital tool in the baby mama toolkit is a good changing bag and the developments here remain astonishing. Backpack ones (like this) are all the rage and the amount you can get in them is nothing short of amazing.
Zero signage or explanation here either; some of these are over £100! But where's the romance with any of it? They're just hung as if they're bags for school.
Bathing and grooming products; but it's sanitised as an experience. Where's any element of personality?
Bathtime with kids conjures all manner of bubbles, toys, water everywhere and the latest in bathing developments. Whilst jelly baths and bath bombs are not suitable for the baby (!) there's no fun here either.
Just product on shelf, in plastic too.
The display kit is all wrong, it allows for nothing to be shown particularly well. The flow and layout wasn't right at all either, the store was laid out as if someone did things by a spreadsheet and internal grouping.
It wasn't done by mission, for example.
Just too low key. Baths on the end there, out of sight and on the back end facing the back wall, entirely away from the passing traffic.
More Anyday products adorned the end where baths (or similar) should have lived.
Just "bedding" - say what you see.
Why should I buy if not desperate?
Another example of the missions being wrong was the ranging and merchandising of baby monitors here. There aren't enough really to justify it being called a category, but these are distinctly different as some are video, others just voice, some have two way radio functionality etc.
It's something that could be bought as a gift as much as it is new parents buying them, but absolutely zero product signage or information, again.
Reviews could feature next to shelf edge label, hell even digital shelf stripping would be good to drive sales and highlight product benefits.
But there's nothing, just signage overhead that says 'monitors.
Coat-hangers were merchandised alongside baby monitors, alongside other gro-lights and other sleep time based products.
They are all solving a need and have a specific purpose. People don't always know and some want guidance from signage and then will use other sources of information.
Yes, partners were around but customers don't always want to interact, or ask basic questions. Sometimes the partners are also busy.
There needs to be more accessibility for all customers, not relying on a person to help them.
Not all toys, some are dummies e.g.
A strange range of product to feature on an end - all of these ends should have been feature collections, or step by step guides -
- Fill your hospital bag - today
- Must haves for your changing bag
- All you need for cloth nappies
Whatever, you get the idea.
Personality, warmth, can be changed to reflect trends and things that are happening / being talked about / events in the wider world etc.
You're solving a problem for the customer! That's the business in baby and indeed retail! Generally that means they have to buy something to solve said problem - baby monitor, a new cot, changing bag etc.
The business is listening, recommending, solving with purchase, or without (customer service = not selling if not suitable).
To listen, you can also set displays up and have signage to advise and guide, it doesn't always have to be a physical person doing it.
There's none of this thinking in baby at JL. A real shame.
Not a terrible example here; but it's not solving a problem.
It's highlighting the anyday range.
That in itself remains unclear in terms of the problem it solves for baby, especially when the John Lewis range and brand name is so well established.
Also the sheets are in packets, so you can't necessarily feel, or see how they look / fit etc. Not ideal.
Our email goes on further to look at the rest of Baby, and Toys, with another 30+ images and insight too.