Department store John Lewis has started to reveal plans for rolling out its stores across the UK again, although its road map to recovery hints that not every location will open this year.
The retailer’s blueprint for reopening sites takes on a “test and learn” mantra, with the John Lewis Partnership planning to open stores in phases, something which is expected to happen in a “minimum of three” stages.
According to operations chief, Andrew Murphy, it will take an average of four weeks to get a shop up and running, and the company has devised an individual plan for each of its 50 stores to allow for social distancing.
Director of retail at John Lewis says the first two stores earmarked for reopening “are really difficult” in terms of complexity, although she did not state which locations these are.
She does say though that the move to open complex stores first was deliberate as it will allow the retailer, at least in principle, to see what works and what does not depending on the size of the building. Some shops have seven entrances; others have two.
Additionally, John Lewis will initially prioritise its 20 or so stores with large car parks so both customers and staff can drive to work without having to rely on public transport. The company is also looking into introducing private buses for staff who need to use public transport to get into work.
While the company is of course keen to open its doors again, protecting staff and customers is a priority.
“Our psychology is … we want to be safe, not fast,” reveals Murphy. “We have no interest in being at the forefront of how people are reopening.”
Director of retail, Naomi Gills, adds: “While we don’t have any shops that we couldn’t open in totality, there are areas that will be closed or compromised to some degree.”
The Government has already said that cafes cannot open in stores until July. John Lewis is also considering whether it will offer services such as face-to-face consultations for new parents.
The company is also considering quarantining items after they have been tried on or tested out by shoppers and not placing them back on the shop floor until they are confident they are clean and safe to handle again. This would include jewellery.
When it comes to clothes, the fitting rooms will initially be closed when stores reopen.
Meanwhile, screens have been installed at tills to protect employees, and there is a detailed cleaning plan to ensure that everything from floors to water tanks are safe.
Operations chief Andrew Murphy says the retailer is trying to be humble in the face of the crisis. “If it has taught us anything, is that we simply cannot get everything right, and embrace the fact that there is uncertainty,” he says.
“We are going to have to accept that we are going to have to call some things wrong and be in the mind-set of being ready to ‘course correct’ – we’re not perfect.”