It was with great sadness that I learnt about the John Lewis proposal not to reopen our local branch. My thoughts are very much with the amazing Peterborough Partners, many of whom I worked closely with for many happy years. Closure decisions such as these are rarely reflective of the endeavours of the local teams, nor do they seek to undermine the loyalty of the local customer base.
The reality as I see it is that over many years the gradual expansion of retailing beyond the city's heart has proved an attractive draw to many customers. Unsurprisingly the alternatives of longer opening hours, a vast amount of free car parking, ease of access and the relaxation of retail category permissions, particularly to the north and south of the city have encouraged shopping away from the centre.
Then add in to the mix the exponential rise in online shopping, our preference shift and reliance on ‘deliver to my door’. This trend is not going to reverse and it's a trend that John Lewis has invested in boldly to meet the customers changing attitudes to shopping.
This is a world with a vastly different retail landscape compared to the early 1980s. No physical retailer, even John Lewis, can ignore the reality of these economics and city centre units face the burden of proportionally far greater costs.
My allegiance to the John Lewis Partnership is well known locally - I committed a long career to the business across East Anglia - but if retaining locations which are sadly no longer viable for the reasons highlighted above, means undermining the long term sustainability of the John Lewis brand, and losing the opportunity to shop regionally including the option to collect John Lewis products from Waitrose - then I am accepting of the tough choices being made.
Ultimately, to survive, every business has to respond to the changing habits and preferences of their consumers. Retailers across the UK face challenging circumstances, exacerbated by an unprecedented 2020. How the majority of us shop will continue to shape the retail landscape that the next generation inherits.