March 19, 2018 / 1:23 PM / 7 months ago

UK's John Lewis boosts services offer as market gets tougher

* 50th UK store opens at White City on Tuesday

* 33 mln stg investment in 600 mln stg Westfield extension

* More services on offer than at any other John Lewis store

* Only one more store in John Lewis opening pipeline

By James Davey

LONDON, March 19 (Reuters) - John Lewis, Britain’s largest department store group, plans to step up the range of services it offers, such as home design and nursery advice, to help it navigate an increasingly tough trading environment, its boss said on Monday.

Speaking at a media preview tour of John Lewis’s new store, its 50th, at the Westfield shopping centre in White City, west London, managing director Paula Nickolds said it will offer a total of 23 services - more than any of its other stores.

British consumers’ discretionary spending is under pressure from rising inflation, subdued wage growth and economic uncertainty before Brexit. In recent years spending has also shifted to leisure and experiences at the expense of apparel and homeware.

“There’s a lot of press at the moment about the high street being dead. I don’t believe that for a second,” Nickolds told reporters.

“But I do believe that retailers have to evolve very significantly and at pace to make sure they keep up with the changing nature of customer behaviour.”

John Lewis’s new 230,000 square feet (21,400 square metre) White City store, costing 33 million pounds ($46 million), is the anchor to the 600 million pound extension of Westfield, which will make it Europe’s largest shopping centre. It will open on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the John Lewis Partnership, which own the eponymous department store chain as well as the Waitrose supermarket business, cautioned that it expected trading to be “volatile” in 2018-19, with no let-up in intense competition. It anticipated further pressure on profits.

To deal with that, Nickolds, a John Lewis veteran and the first woman to run the 154-year-old, employee-owned chain, is increasingly focusing on adding more experiences and services to John Lewis stores.

The White City store will also offer daily fashion style talks, cookery masterclasses, beauty treatments and advice on how to make a house a smart home.

Beyond an opening in Cheltenham, western England, later this year, John Lewis has no more stores in its pipeline.

“Beyond that we haven’t committed,” said Nickolds. “But if the right shop in the right location comes up we will be interested. We haven’t said no to new shops as a point of principle.”

John Lewis said last Tuesday its total sales were running down 0.4 percent in the six weeks to March 10 - the first six weeks of its 2018-19 financial year.

Earlier this month the business reported a 4.5 percent rise in profit for the 2017-18 year to 254.2 million pounds on sales up 2.2 percent to 4.84 billion pounds.

Brutal trading conditions have already sunk two high-profile UK retailers. Last week administrators for Toys R Us said all 100 of its UK stores would close, with the loss of 3,000 jobs, while earlier this month electricals retailer Maplin also collapsed into administration, threatening over 2,300 jobs. ($1 = 0.7129 pounds) (Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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