My nearby branch of Waitrose has introduced CCTV cameras on self-checkout tills. This is simply the latest move in the attack on our freedoms which is gathering apace, and a glaring example of how once great institutions are losing all the values that made them so successful in the first place. This is my open letter to the CEO of the John Lewis partnership, James Bailey, to express my views.
Dear Mr Bailey,
My wife and I live in Otley, West Yorkshire, having originated from Newcastle upon Tyne. We have been enthusiastic shoppers and supporters of the John Lewis Partnership for 50 years, starting with Bainbridge’s in our younger days.
As you will no doubt be aware, Bainbridge’s started life in Newcastle in 1838 as the first department store in the world, way ahead of London and Paris. This article sheds some light on its proud history. It became part of the John Lewis group in 1953. I know you will be well aware of these facts, but I’m mentioning them because of my interest in the John Lewis story.
The John Lewis Partnership has always been a fine example to British business. The whole idea of partnership, if not unique, is rare in a business of such a size. Treating staff fairly and as partners, or stakeholders, and giving them a practical share in the fortunes of the business is an example of ‘enlightened self interest’. The fact that the business has been so successful over the years is testimony to the wisdom of such a business approach: Treat your employees well and they will reward you with dedication and effort; so simple, really.
The other side of the coin is that John Lewis has always had a customer-focused attitude. Giving them a fair deal and never being ‘knowingly undersold’ was a strategy that has stood the firm in good stead over the years. No-quibble guarantees and excellent customer/ staff relations have always been at the heart of the John Lewis shopping experience.
If I may now turn to Waitrose, which is the focal point of my letter:
Waitrose and partners began its journey on the high street in 1904 when Wallace Wyndham Waite, Arthur Rose and David Taylor opened their first shop in Acton, west London. Two years later they becameWaitrose, named after two of the founders. They joined forces with the John Lewis Partnership in October 1937. In the early 1970s Waitrose had 50 branches; by 2022 the number had increased to 363 in the UK with two in the Channel Islands. A remarkable success story, to say the least.
They have a loyal customer base because their customers know that quality, variety, value for money and good service, all backed up with a pleasant shopping experience, make a Waitrose branch a pleasure to visit. Until recently, that is.
In all walks of life technology is gaining pace. Some call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In no area is this more apparent than how we buy our goods. The trend seems to be shop online and have products delivered to our homes direct from warehouses, and to close shops. Is it any wonder that shops, not least supermarkets, find it difficult to recruit staff, motivate them and retain them when they know that their jobs are seen as costs, reluctantly borne, which will be discarded at the first opportunity? How does this square with a company policy to value and nurture employees?
· A major question of our times can be summed up thus: Does technology serve humanity and enhance our lives? Or do we serve technology and allow it to determine our existence to the point that many of us have no purpose except to be enslaved by so-called ‘progress’?
All this brings me to my recent shopping experience in Waitrose at Otley. Over the last months I have become aware of the tension and stress that employees seem to be under, the shortage of goods on the shelves and the huge increases in prices for basic items. On my latest visit, I saw that the self-serve checkouts had been fitted with camera surveillance and my every move was being recorded. It was very disconcerting and completely unacceptable to me.
If Waitrose are going down the route of treating all their customers as if they are potential thieves who must be monitored, then I for one and my wife for another will not be shopping with you again. To go from a welcoming, friendly store to a maximum-security prison-type environment is not something I wish to subject myself to. I am aware that shoplifting is on the increase because people are having to choose between ‘heat or eat’, but I will not bear the brunt of being treated as a potential criminal due to the total and abject failure of government policy over these past years.
Many of my friends feel the same, that these security measures are an infringement on our personal liberties. Their reactions range from an intention to use manned tills only to shopping elsewhere until or unless the monitored tills are removed.
I really don’t know what the founders of John Lewis and Waitrose would make of the direction Waitrose is going in. I have a feeling they would not approve. Surely it is not too late for this much-valued group to take stock and to realise that there is still a huge and lucrative market out there for the traditional shopping experience. We need to bring back humanity into our methods of procuring what we need to sustain us, not to get rid of it altogether.