In June last year, John Lewis warned that its profits would suffer as it shored up its balance sheet to support investment. This investment was part of an explicit strategy of "differentiation". Profits duly dropped to almost zero, then into the red this year.
This week's launch of a £3 million "concept shop" in Southampton, the first of its kind, indicates the purpose behind the parsimony. The store will offer classes, tastings, makeovers, a roof garden and more.
John Lewis is not the first retailer to offer experiential shopping with the aim of increasing consumer loyalty and spend. But it is interesting that this comes at a time when Debehams and House of Fraser, among other erstwhile High Street big beasts, are on their knees. A combination of online competition and rising rents has been toxic. John Lewis continues to bet on the High Street and hopes to do things smarter than its rivals.
There is a lot of sense to this strategy. Few UK companies enjoy more brand recognition and loyalty than John Lewis, but even John Lewis is not immune to online competition and economic volatility. The greatest value from John Lewis' strategy probably comes from introducing a new generation of consumers - most of whom already shop online habitually - to the joys of the Partnership.
Brand loyalty is a fickle thing: hard-won and never truly secure. It is only by embedding your brand in a consumer's consciousness, almost to the extent that they would feel guilty shopping at a rival or online, that the battle might be won. To intertwine shopping with experience is to involve consumers' emotions and feelings. Cynical, perhaps, but probably effective.
If you can't be the cheapest, be the most loved. John Lewis deserves recognition for following through with its clear and consistent vision. Other brands might take note.
The John Lewis Partnership has launched a concept shop with a series of services including chefs, gardeners, interior designers and tech specialists.