John Lewis interview: We want to continue to outpace the computing market

John Lewis hopes to deliver a blockbuster year in 2015 - PCR asks tablet and computing buyer William Jones how
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Having beaten the desktop decline in 2013, John Lewis now hopes to deliver another blockbuster year. Dominic Sacco asks tablet and computing buyer William Jones how…

How big is John Lewis’ tech business? 

Electricals and Home Technology (EHT) make up a third of the John Lewis business so naturally it’s of huge importance. Over the last few years we have seen explosive growth of EHT at John Lewis and 2014 has been another stellar year, with new records being set.

What are your aims and ambitions within the tech market in the next 12 year? 

We want to continue to outpace the market and deliver another blockbuster year. To do that we need to do the right things for our customers – deliver on quality, price and service.

Just over a year ago John Lewis had a ten per cent share of the computing market in the UK – is that still growing?

We are 12 per cent of the UK Tablets and Computing Market on a MAT (Moving Annual Total) basis today and we still see plenty of opportunities for us to grow.

You have some own brand white goods including a smart TV. How successful is this range, and would you consider launching own label computing products, for example tablets?

Our own brand electrical proposition is well established now, with fantastic success in white goods and audio over the last few years. We introduced our first John Lewis Smart TV last year and have been thrilled by the response to it – so watch this space to see where we take our own brand products in 2015. The key inspiration for us is that the range is ‘thoughtfully designed for our customers’ so we are very discerning on the products that carry our brand.

Black Friday was very successful for John Lewis. Did you envisage how popular it would be in 2014? Do you expect even more demand from customers this November? 

We knew it was going to be huge and began our planning in the spring of 2014. The key was being able to give the service and experience our customers expect from us in the face of unprecedented demand – it was this operational excellence at that time that was our biggest success. Black Friday for electricals is certainly in the retail calendar so we expect more of the same this year.

Some retailers have said that Black Friday was challenging in a way as it prompted slower sales in the weeks before and after. Is this something you saw on the tech side?

It has changed the shape of the Christmas shopping period undoubtedly, especially for electricals, but it is something that we prepared for.

Late last year, Asus announced the availability of its MeMo Pad 7exclusively for sale in John Lewis. Do you plan to secure more exclusives?

It’s important to us, as we love bringing great new products to our customers and it’s a way of differentiating us from other retailers. The Asus tablet and the 4K laptop from 2014 are great examples. We are always looking for potential exclusives when it’s right for us and our customers, particularly new breakthrough technology.

Click and Collect is becoming more prevalent – how popular is that with computing products? 

Between 30 and 40 per cent of our sales are online, with around a third of those being clicked and collected. It’s grown over 50 per cent this year at John Lewis.

Tablets were the top-selling product in John Lewis’ 2013-14 financial year – how are they faring this year? 

Tablets have performed well at John Lewis once again, but not with the same explosive growth we have seen in the last few years. The big growth has come through wearables such as the Motorola 360 and smart home devices like the Nest Thermostat.

"We want to continue to outpace the market and deliver another blockbuster year. To do that we need to do the right things for our customers – deliver on quality, price and service."

Analysts are reporting a dip in tablet sales and a rise in laptops and desktops – is that something you’ve seen at John Lewis?

The tablet market is maturing, we’ve seen the demand for eight-inch tablets soar as with increased popularity of larger screen phones. The seven- inch tablet is becoming less popular – why have any extra device for not much more screen real estate?

The other trend we see is for premium Android tablets, customers want to upgrade their device for a thinner, lighter device with a better screen. The Samsung Tab S was a big hit with our customers this Christmas.

Laptops and desktops have evolved a lot recently – the rise of two-in-one devices and mini desktops means these traditional computing solutions are more flexible than ever before. Two-in-one devices are up 300 per cent this year at John Lewis.

Microsoft recently announced that Windows 10 will be free within its first year. What do you think of this – will it drive sales of new computers?

It’s good for customers, so we are supportive of this, it will be a great way of generating more interest.

How is in-store technology changing the way tech is being sold at retail? 

Technology is blurring with fashion faster than ever, smart watches as a prime example. Customers want it to look good and work well in equal measure – compromising on either of those is not an option any more.

How do you expect the PC and tech retail market to develop this year? What kind of trends do you expect to emerge?

It’s an exciting year ahead. We expect wearables to really resonate with consumers this year, we have Windows 10 coming and some novel new products like HP’s Sprout.

The challenge and opportunity for us will be about delivering these stories to customers in an engaging way and continuing to deliver the best computing and tablet proposition available.

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