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John Lewis puts theatre into retail with staff acting classes

More than 500 staff of UK department store chain John Lewis are being trained in theatrical skills by actors working for the National Theatre to help them deliver outstanding customer service at the retailer’s new shop at White City, Westfield which opens later this month.

The retailer says the training is part of its plan to respond to growing customer expectation for its shops to be inspiring places where customers go for style advice, exciting events and beauty treatments, as well as to buy products.

Every Partner recruited to work at the new shop from those who work in the stockroom to the brand head is undergoing the training, which is run by Theatreworks, the National Theatre’s training service.

“John Lewis has turned to theatrical training because actors are outstanding communicators, and skilled at being on show and using their voices for long periods of time as people in retail do,” said Peter Cross, customer experience director with John Lewis. “The training covers voice and body language skills used by actors to communicate authentically with confidence.”

Cross said retailers often talk about ‘retail theatre’ but as shopping habits change this has never been more important.

“We’re investing in this training with one of the world’s leading theatre companies because actors are outstanding communicators and that’s an important element in offering outstanding personal service.”
The training sessions are led by experienced actors including Sarah Thom, whose TV credits include Taboo, Home Fires, Not Going Out and Doctors.

Sheila Chawla from the National Theatre who manages the training, said sessions focus on the idea that communication is made up of not just what you say but how you say it.

“So body language, voice and expression are all as important as our words. We all find it more engaging when someone brings some of their personality to a conversation, meeting or presentation – and our training is all about giving you the confidence and the tools to do that.  

“It’s all about being yourself just with a bit more skill. We’re excited to be working with John Lewis on this project and to be able to share skills from the theatre that can help John Lewis partners engage with customers in a fresh and authentic way,” she said.

John Lewis’ White City, Westfield shop is the anchor shop of the new £600 million extension of Westfield London.

Spanning four floors, the shop will include features not offered in other John Lewis London shops, including Loved & Found – a stand-alone boutique for new and contemporary brands – and &Beauty, John Lewis’s spa concept. The fashion floor will also showcase a new look including a dedicated personal styling studio, which is just one of the 23 services customers will be able to book via the new Experience Desk, offering a  a ‘concierge style’ service to help them make the most of the shop and its services.

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