Q&A: Sean Allam, director of commercial operations, John Lewis

John Lewis director of commercial operations, Sean Allam, explains how exports are important for the brand. 

Marketing Week (MW): How important are exports to John Lewis?

Sean Allam (SA): At the moment, they’re not very important in a commercial sense. Our international business is less than 1 per cent of our sales. We want to start to build and develop the John Lewis brand outside the UK. We’re thinking long-term. We know eventually that the UK market will probably not sustain our ambition.

MW: John Lewis currently exports to 33 countries. Which are most important for the brand?

SA: It does vary by category, but they are the obvious places where one would expect to find large expat communities. Not surprisingly, France and Spain are very important.

There are some interesting territories that are further away where we have a reasonable business, such as the Middle East and Singapore. We’re going to expand. We will add to the 33 over the course of the next sixto 12 months.

MW: What have you learned from your wholesale partnership with South Korean department store chain Shinsegae?

SA: We wanted to collaborate with a territory, so that we could develop our wholesale proposition. We’ve used it as a test bed. What we have been learning there is what we’re going to now take to other territories – how to set up our logistics, how to target the brand in a non-UK territory.

We are looking at other territories where we feel we can do a similar wholesale arrangement. We looked where our brands would have some saliency and at the potential partners that would work.

MW: What challenges have you encountered with regards to overseas expansion?

SA: You have to get your head around what your brand position is in that market – it isn’t necessarily what it is at home – and around what that consumer will want, which can vary and again isn’t necessarily what the UK consumer wants. And you need to sort your supply chain out.

MW: Why are you opening a store in Heathrow next year?

SA: It’s a deliberate strategy to expose our brand to more international customers, but without landing a physical outlet outside the UK, which at this stage we don’t want to do. We have plenty of expansion physically to focus on in the UK. Airports provide us with the opportunity to bring our proposition to an international customer and we keep control of it.

MW: How are you developing your digital platforms to aid foreign customers?

SA: We’re working on internationalising our website, so it becomes more relevant to customers in specific territories. We know if someone from Spain is logging onto our website, so we can make sure we put in front of them the things that are relevant to them. It’s making sure that delivery, payment options and currency, all of that is handled seamlessly for international customers.

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