The John Lewis Partnership is one of the UK's best-known retail groups, operating a national network of department stores under the John Lewis name (or, for one single store in London, as Peter Jones), as well as supermarket chain Waitrose and a small collection of other businesses. Uniquely among major UK retailers, the company remains a mutual partnership, jointly owned by around 85,500 permanent staff. With a nationwide reputation for fairly priced quality goods, John Lewis is generally regarded as the preferred home goods retailer for the British middle classes, and traditionally tops any survey of the country's "best-loved" retailers. One unsual by-product of the fondness of the British public for John Lewis has been the extraordinary attention devoted to its annual Christmas advertising campaign, which has become quite disproportionate to the company's size. It has been, without doubt, the nation's most anticipated advertising event for more than a decade. Waitrose comprises a chain of almost 340 mostly medium-sized supermarkets and convenience stores around the UK. Until comparatively recently the group had enjoyed reasonably strong financial performance, and expanded its Waitrose business considerably through the purchase of outlets from other chains. However, turmoil within the UK grocery market and competition from online retailers have weighed heavily on performance since 2015, even as John Lewis overtook key department store rival Marks & Spencer by market share. At the same time, Waitrose, once the UK's #6 supermarket, was overtaken by both Aldi and Lidl, and now sits in 8th place with around 5% of grocery market share. Store closures during the Covid pandemic added immense additional pressure to the department store busines, even as it lifted Waitrose. Revenues for the year to Jan 2021 actually rose by 6% to £10.8bn, as a 10% increase at Waitrose to £7.0bn offset a 1% decline at John Lewis to £3.7bn. However a large impairment charge against the John Lewis chain and restructuring and redundancy costs resulted in the company's first ever annual net loss of £517m. As a result, it suspended the annual bonus payment to partners for the first time since 1954. It also announced the permanent closure of eight of its 42 stores, with a loss of around 1,500 jobs. Sharon White replaced Sir Charlie Mayfield as executive chairman of the Partnership in 2020.
Capsule checked 8th April 2020
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Who are the competitors of John Lewis Partnership? John Lewis is the UK's leading department store, with 25% market share in 2017, according to researcher Verdict. One-time leader Marks & Spencer was in second place at 23%, followed by Debenhams (14%), Harrods (11%), Selfridges (10%) and House of Fraser (8%). See Retail Sector for other companies
Historical profile information for John Lewis Partnership
Marketer Moves 31st May 2021: New head of brand & marketing at John Lewis. See Marketer Moves (members only).
Marketer Moves 6th April 2021: New head of marketing at Waitrose. See Marketer Moves (members only).
Adbrands Daily Update 9th Jan 2020: He may have proved popular with some viewers, but Excitable Edgar, star of the latest John Lewis Christmas ad, failed to light up the beleaguered department store's seasonal sales. The Partnership unveiled lacklustre figures for the holiday period, with John Lewis's like-for-like sales down 2%, led by even steeper declines in furniture and electricals. Waitrose was up 0.4% LFL. Annual profits are likely to be "significantly lower" than expected, prompting the board to warn it may not be prudent to award the traditional bonus to partners in April. A decision will made in February. It was also announced that John Lewis MD Paula Nickolds will depart the group. She was set to transition to a new role as head of brand for both John Lewis and Waitrose. However, according to outgoing chairman Charlie Mayfield, "after some reflection on the responsibilities of her proposed new role, we have decided together" that now is the right time for her to move on.
Adbrands Daily Update 14th Nov 2019: "Excitable Edgar". Well here it is. Somehow the arrival of the seasonal John Lewis ad has become the sign that Christmas is here, in the same way that the first cuckoo portends Spring. John Lewis and sister brand Waitrose are now working in tandem in marketing terms and this is their first joint Christmas ad. As usual, Adam&Eve DDB is the agency. It's not bad. Certainly better than past misfires like "Man on the Moon" and 'Moz the Monster". (And would be better still without that X Factor version of an already so-so song!). The problem for the John Lewis Partnership now is that expectations run so high each year that it's virtually impossible to surprise the audience, in the way that the best of the company's ads ("The Long Wait", "The Journey", "Monty the Penguin") did five or more years ago. As a result, there's clearly a temptation to settle for kids' fare like this rather than a film with slightly more grown-up edges. Still, if you keep the kids happy, the parents will be happy too.
Adbrands Daily Update 1st Oct 2019: Struggling with a downturn in performance, especially in its department store division, John Lewis Partnership announced a merger of what were previously two separate management teams to form a single unified structure. One team will manage both supermarket chain Waitrose and the John Lewis department stores. The most notable casualty of the move is the resignation of Waitrose MD Rob Collins after 26 years with the company. Both divisions' marketing teams are being combined under the leadership of Paula Nickolds, formerly MD of John Lewis, now group executive director of brand. John Lewis's chief customer officer Craig Inglis - the man behind the store's long-running Christmas ad campaign- will retain the same role across both retail chains. His Waitrose counterpart Martin George becomes group marketing director, also across both chains.
Adbrands Daily Update 7th Mar 2019: Tough trading during 2018 and over the holiday season left a sizeable dent on the John Lewis Partnership's results for the year ending 2019. Topline remained solid with net revenues of £10.3bn, up 1%. However bottom line was hard hit, especially at the John Lewis department store business, where operating profit plunged by more than half. That was partly offset by a strong recovery at supermarket division Waitrose, but the net result was that the group cut its bonus payout to partners (what it calls its staff) to the lowest level since 1953. Waitrose now accounts for almost two-thirds of revenues and more than two-thirds of profits.
Adbrands Social Media 20th Nov 2018: "Fast Forward". Ooh, that's cheeky! And so very "meta" too. As part of the seasonal campaign for supermarket Waitrose - which is of course the sister retail chain to John Lewis - Adam&Eve DDB makes fun of its own latest John Lewis Christmas ad and the annual anticipation for each year's release. The concept underlying all the agency's seasonal ads for Waitrose this year is that the produce is so good, people can't wait to try it. And not even our beloved Lord Elton can stop them.
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