Here’s a good idea.

Take an online principle, make it better, then improve it further by offering things you can only do in-store. We’re all familiar with browsing online, scrolling through products and being able to choose a few to compare against each other.

John Lewis’ Sofa Studio helps you do that in store, making it easy to appreciate the wide variety and choice of the sofas on offer “at-a-glance”.

A simple wall displays a gallery of postcards of all the sofas (including those not in store but available online) with another display nearby presenting fabric swatches. In many ways it’s easier to browse than on-screen. And if you think that the shopper’s main criteria is likely to be the look, then you can see why this would be far more intuitive and faster than scrolling down a digital display.

The ability to compare is provided by the information on the reverse of the cards which shows size options and pricing. Okay, so maybe that’s not as easy as listing a few together on screen but there’s something engaging and tactile about the postcards and they’re possibly more likely to be retained. I noticed shoppers picking up handfuls and going off to touch the accompanying fabric swatches and looking for the physical sofas.

One could argue that a digital experience might provide more in a smaller space although you would still need to create an environment for it to sit within that was attractive and engaging. This seems a more natural solution and in keeping with how customers approach this kind of purchase – especially as they are likely to have looked online at home already so have an expectation that a store visit will offer something richer and fuller.

Having said that there are a few things I would change. For a start the service counter feels like a barrier at the moment and customers are often reluctant to venture into what they perceive as staff space. Move it to the side, for example, and they’d be more inclined to engage without feeling as if they needed to “check in”. Another improvement could be to categorise the cards in some way. This could help the customer to see if the sofa was available to view in-store, for instance, or offered as a sofabed.

All in all though I think it’s a neat example of taking what’s good about online without slavishly replicating it in-store, as well as enhancing the link between online and instore activity.

Tim Bevin-Nicholls

PS. If you want to see how a lack of the comparison option can be really frustrating, read this article