John Lewis and Waitrose (Re) Announce the Partnership

Many of you will have seen the ubiquitous campaign from John Lewis and Waitrose announcing and reaffirming their partnership. They are focussing on the claim that to them ‘it’s personal’ as they seek to position themselves as a brand ‘for the people’ in the mind of consumers. The campaign can be seen instore, above the line and throughout print and press and it’s interesting to think about why they might be activating this communication.

On the one hand, the organisation has always been connected to loyal consumers – those who shop at both Waitrose and John Lewis – with an understanding of standards and qualities that will remain consistent across both brands. But to John Lewis consumers (alone), of which there are many, does the connection with Waitrose really mean anything? Could it work negatively in that many believe Waitrose to be the elitist multiple supermarket brand where things are more expensive than in other supermarket stores? Whether or not this the case, the benefit of emphasising the connection between the brands has to be questioned.

We’re not questioning the execution of the rebrand. There’s little point in that as it’s subjective and every individual graphic designer through to the global agency networks will have an opinion on that. What we’re questioning is why do this and what benefit do they (JLP / Waitrose) believe it will have?

As we write this we are not aware of any profit declaration from Waitrose but we can easily see that John Lewis is reporting negative results for their half year earnings and profit with many sources claiming it is down by 99% which means they’re close to breaking even for the first half year. This is worrying for any organisation and indicative of what is happening on the high street. But, could it be that John Lewis is becoming slightly irrelevant in its approach and offering and could it be that JLP are seeking to benefit from the halo effect of Waitrose – who, as far as we know, continue to succeed despite the fierce competition within that sector.

This begs the question of whether retailers, especially the larger ones, are able to pivot quickly enough. Do they have the ability to stay current and relevant to an ever changing and developing consumer and audience? Is John Lewis too stuffy, too predictable? Does it remain synonymous with quality and customer care or have other retailers caught up with this approach making JLP’s one-time unique USP a non-factor in purchase behaviour?

We, of course, do not have all the answers and are not privy to the detailed numbers or the strategies worked on behind the scenes. However, we were alerted to this by what we would call an immersed brand advocate who regularly (and where possible – only) shops with John Lewis and Waitrose. On receiving the announcement email, Sue forwarded the email to us and asked ‘why?’ and ‘why now?’. The repositioning and rebrand does not seem to define the organisation as anything new or different and it certainly feels a little reactionary. We will see how things unfold and how this undoubtedly excellent retailer will adapt and navigate the future of retail.