John Lewis is trumpeting record sales figures over Christmas – so that old misery on the moon did work some magic – with like for like sales up 5.1 per cent (4.8 last year). Which means it’s trouncing its high street rivals, most notably Marks & Spencer (although it’s less dependent on clothing sales).
Its supermarket chain Waitrose, however, saw a sales decline of 1.4 per cent, in line with some of its rivals although not, probably, Aldi, Lidl and Sainsbury’s. The UK grocery market is tough these days thanks to the aforementioned German discounters and next to no inflation. Shoppers have also become more savvy.
But you do feel that Waitrose, which has seemed able to defy gravity in recent years, has lost its way somewhat. It’s busily matching some of its rivals’ prices on 1000 brands (which must be costing a pretty penny) but its famed standards of supply and service seem to be slipping. It’s only one example but its Holloway Road, north London store (left) on January 2 (celebrity shoppers there include actor Charles Dance and politico Margaret Hodge as well as my good self) looked like a bomb had hit it, with empty shelves and half the checkouts closed.
New Waitrose stores are smart enough but the ageing members of its 346 store estate are in need of some overdue TLC.
Once a supermarket brand starts to slip it’s the devil’s own job to turn things round. Tesco CEO Dave Lewis is still struggling to do so a year after he joined while it took Sainsbury’s a decade to recover once it lost its market leading position to Tesco.
Waitrose’s ebullient boss, Mark Price the famed ‘chubby grocer,’ is leaving in April. The new team headed by former JL retail director Rob Collins, which also includes new agency adam&eveDDB, needs to up its game.