The sustainability initiatives, which were unveiled on Monday, are aimed at encouraging a “reduce, reuse and return” culture among customers and could provide a model for its other shops.
The pilot will test eight ways in which both the retailer and its customers can lessen their impact on the planet, including reducing plastic and excess packaging in order to prevent it from going to landfill.
John Lewis’s Oxford store has removed 5p plastic carrier bags from all till areas and instead encourages customers to bring a bag, or buy a reusable one. Over a year it is estimated that this could save 5 tonnes of plastic.
The shop will also become the first in the retailing chain in the UK to trial a reusable “click and collect” bag made from 100% recycled materials. One in four orders will be delivered to the shop in these reusable bags, meaning customers will be handed their orders without any additional packaging.
Stephen Cawley, the head of sustainability at John Lewis said: “Our customers have told us they want us to help them reduce their impact on the planet and that reducing and recycling packaging is key for them. Our message that we want customers to take away just the product that they love and reduce and reuse the packaging that they don’t, will be clearly communicated throughout the shop.”
Cawley said sales of plastic carrier bags across John Lewis had fallen by 30% since the introduction of the 5p charge in England in October 2015. But the chain still sold 11.5 million bags last year. “That is an unacceptable amount of plastic” he said.
As concern grows about the effect of single-use plastic on the environment, manufacturers and retailers have begun to tackle their substantial carbon footprints. Last month Sainsbury’s said selling milk and fizzy drinks in returnable glass bottles was an option, while Tesco will ban brands that use excessive packaging from its stores from next year.
In other measures introduced at John Lewis’s Oxford store, bubble wrap is being substituted for recyclable eco-wrap for china and glass products. Customers can also bring back hangers – from any retailer or brand – to be reused or recycled.
The shop will also reward My John Lewis membership cardholders who return empty beauty product packaging and used clothing with gift vouchers. The so-called BeautyCycle scheme, which was tested earlier this year, is being permanently introduced this week to 36 John Lewis shops with a beauty department. Customers booking home delivery for larger items will be offered the chance to help reduce carbon emissions by selecting an “eco-delivery” slot when a van would be close to their home.
The trial will continue into next year and the retailer will evaluate customer feedback before deciding whether to roll it out. It has 50 shops across the UK (36 department stores, 12 John Lewis at home and shops at St Pancras station in London and Heathrow’s Terminal 2) as well as online shop johnlewis.com.
The chain has taken a leaf out of the book of its sister retailer Waitrose – also part of the John Lewis Partnership – in choosing Oxford as a testbed.
In June Waitrose launched a trial of its Unpacked system at the local Botley Road store to gauge shoppers’ reactions to packaging-free food and drink options including the use of refills, a concept that is being scrutinised by its competitors.