John Lewis trial online personal shopper service in a push towards multi-channel retail

12th September 2013

Following an internal competition to brainstorm innovative technology-led ideas – John Lewis are rolling out a trial online personal shopper service within their website’s womenswear department as they broaden their efforts towards multi-channel retail.

john lewis store

The premise of the service is to give the same kind of quality style advice they would receive if they were to approach one of John Lewis’ trained in-store fashion assistants. Unlike the in-store service, the online fashion assistant is automated and uses an algorithm which asks the customers a series of questions about their personal preferences, body shape, colouring and the event or occasion at which they intend to wear the new clothes – eg a wedding, work wear or casual use. The online personal shopper will then offer a range of stylish and appropriate solutions for the customer to browse through.

The service is the brainwave of Dorothy Wood, who works as a personal shopper at John Lewis, Cambridge, It is currently being developed by the John Lewis digital development team and will be trialled this Autumn.

The idea is a result of a challenge by John Lewis chief information officer Paul Coby who asked the  entire staff to come up with ideas that utilise technology to improve customer service and the quality of their overall retail experience. Wood’s winning entry was chosen by a panel of employees from 150 entries – Coby described the process as ‘a lot of fun’:

“The number of ideas out there in the business about how we can use technology was fantastic. We could probably have had 20 worthwhile finalists rather than five. It was a really interesting thing to do.”

In addition to canvassing their staff for ideas, John Lewis also run an Innovation Day for technology suppliers, inviting IT companies to pitch ideas for new technology-led services both  in store and online, including Smartphone apps and scannable or interactive displays, as Cob explains:

“You need to be open to all these different sources of innovation, whether it’s your own people, start-ups or big suppliers in California.”

The burgeoning interest in using technology to improve the quality of both customer service and the retail experience both in-store and online should not be under-estimated and John Lewis understand that they have to move quickly and source these ideas from different locations in order to stay on top of their game.


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