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Rebecca Smith talks about the launch of Windows 8 and the growing technology sector

John Lewis: ‘Technology is one of our largest and fastest growing categories’

It’s been the year of technology for John Lewis as the retailer continues to expand its offering with the launch of Windows 8.

PCR talks with Rebecca Smith, buyer of computing & printing at John Lewis to discuss why more people are turning to the brand for its tech products.

Considering John Lewis’ place in the market, and its specialist competitors, how difficult is it to adopt a strategy that not only works for the brand, but is competitive?
The John Lewis electricals customer is looking for technology that is excellent value, with an increasing focus on high- end functionality and design. John Lewis is often able to secure exclusive products, meaning that we are the first place customers look for new technology. The ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ policy at John Lewis is key to giving customers confidence that products are competitive and the extended guarantees at no extra cost generate a high level of loyalty and trust.

How important is the release of a must-have product, such as Windows 8 to John Lewis?
Windows 8 has the potential to be a seismic event for the UK computing market, as it gives customers a reason to trade up into new form factors, like convertible PCs for example. Since many John Lewis customers are focused on style and design, the launch represents a significant sales opportunity. This is why Windows 8 has been given so much focus in-store; not just within the technology departments but also in other areas such as shop windows.

What products within the technology sector have done well for the brand recently?
John Lewis is having a very successful year across its technology categories. It has been very positive to see growth in traditional computing, whilst tablet growth has also been superb. Other highlights include large screen TVs and headphones.

What effect do you think the release of Windows 8 will have on these other products?
Microsoft’s new operating system has the opportunity to boost sales in tablets overall, since it gives customers the opportunity to have one operating system across all their devices and is particularly suitable for those who use Windows 8 for work and want a secondary device for leisure use, but need to transfer files easily between the two. In this respect, Windows 8 represents a genuine alternative operating system to Apple. There are a limited number of Windows 8 tablets at the moment so I believe it will be next year when we really see this effect.

Microsoft’s new OS encourages the touch experience and is recommended for tablet PCs and similar devices. Are you expecting to see a surge in popularity for these products?
Yes, absolutely. It’s really exciting to see some genuine innovation in PCs. We have successfully sold touch all-in-one desktops for a few years and it is fantastic to see touch coming to a wider array of products. Touch ultrabooks have got off to a fantastic start, and we also expect to see strong sales of hybrid products such as the Lenovo Yoga and Samsung Slate in the run up to Christmas. They will give customers much more flexibility with the benefits of both a tablet and a laptop in one.

As a result, do you expect to see a decline in the sales of traditional PCs, both desktops and laptops?
The emergence of tablets and hybrid devices means that the market now offers something for everyone and John Lewis offers a wide range of products to suit the ever-changing needs of customers.

We are increasingly finding that customers will purchase multiple devices for use in different locations or for different purposes. Customers are responding positively to our product selection, ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ pledge and extended guarantees, so I expect our sales to continue to rise even in these more challenging traditional categories.

A tough year for retail looks set to continue. What steps has John Lewis taken to combat this decline?
Overall, we have continued to invest in our shops through refurbishments and new stores such as the department store that recently opened in Exeter.

We will be continuing to add both department stores and ‘At Home’ stores over the next few years and are also investing in our IT infrastructure. In tough times, customers are increasingly looking to shop in a stable company such as John Lewis that offers security in the form of extended product guarantees.

From a buyer’s perspective, how crucial is it to predict which products are going to drive consumer demand? Is it a make or break issue?
As a buyer, it’s really important to predict which products will be right for the John Lewis customers and stay one step ahead. Our customers need to get value for money but are becoming increasingly design-conscious, since many technology products are now seen as fashion items.

We spend a lot of time talking to the partners that work in our shops to understand what’s important for our customers and then work with manufacturers to select the most appropriate range.

Christmas is always a crucial time as sales figures are heavily scrutinised. I imagine it’s a very testing time? What products do you believe will be big sellers for John Lewis?
Christmas is a very exciting time to work in retail! We always scrutinise the sales, whatever the time of year, but the stakes are higher at Christmas.

Big sellers this year are expected to be tablets (iPad, Android and Windows 8), e-readers and headphones as well as more typical PC products.

How strong of a performer is technology?
Technology is one of the largest and fastest growing categories within John Lewis.

You must be pretty confident heading into the seasonal period considering the wide range of products the brand offers?
Yes, we have increased sales substantially across all computing categories during 2012 so far.

Christmas is the critical trading period for us and I believe we have the right products, combined with exceptional customer service, to attract customers to John Lewis during this time.

What else does John Lewis have in the pipeline?
Next year I expect to see more thin and light PCs at affordable prices, and a wider selection of convertible devices that show off the benefits of Windows 8.


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