In 2016 we were “brave not beige” says John Lewis

david-bowie-aladdin-sane-album-cover_dezeenRetail bellwether John Lewis has produced an illuminating report into how we shopped and lived in 2016, which has been a remarkable year politically, culturally and economically.


The buying habits of John Lewis customers tell a fascinating tale of how British people responded to the political, cultural and economic shake-ups of the last twelve months.

prince2016 has truly been a year of big events. Two of the world’s most influential music icons are no longer with us, the UK is leaving the EU and has a new Prime Minister, Wales did better in the Euros than England, our Olympians and Paralympians led us to stratospheric victory at Rio and the US Presidential elections have turned into a surreal soap opera.

The weather did not adhere to convention this year either, having a huge impact on what customers bought and when. After a mild January, in which we saw strong sales of lightweight linen, there was snow in April.

flamingo“Far from playing it safe at a time of uncertainty, customers chose to get out of their comfort zones and make a statement this year.” In the face of changes such as Brexit, “a more confident customer is emerging”, notes the report, “who deftly switches between the multitude of shopping channels and has embraced a braver, bolder style”.

“Retailers”, they say, “must constantly evolve to be successful, and to meet customers’ increasingly sophisticated expectations. Products have to be fantastic, in-store experiences have to be stimulating and websites and apps need to inspire”.

youre-the-pineapple-of-my-eyeThe 2016 John Lewis Retail Report reveals plenty of evidence of “brave, not beige” purchases in the home, where ornamental pineapples and flamingos made an appearance, and in wardrobes, where men turned sleepwear into streetwear and ladies opted for expressive, colourful prints.

“The passing of Prince and David Bowie, two of the most iconic figures in music and fashion, perhaps reminded the nation of the true power of self-expression.” Men’s fashion, for instance, broke all the rules, mixing casual with formalwear, re-visiting nineties grunge and, taking its cue from Jared Leto, turning sleepwear into streetwear.

royal-familyOther famous faces that shaped the nation’s style this year included the usual suspects (Victoria Beckham, the Kardashians and the Royal children), plus some new and somewhat surprising additions in the form of Ab Fab’s Patsy and Edina, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.

indian-accessories-designers-omar-mansoor-indian-designer-scarves-oms-ss15-7-oh-so-catty-scarf-1Weather turbulence caused 31% fewer sunglasses to be sold this April than April ’15, while sales of scarves, faux fur throws and slippers rose 41%, 200% and 300% respectively. After a brief warm spell in May, early summer was also unseasonably cool, leading to a 13% rise in ladies’ thermal underwear purchases.

“In the home, this was the year customers abandoned beige in favour of bold colour contrasts, clashing prints, statement lighting and quirky curiosities such as golden pineapples and inflatable flamingos. The explosion of social media stimulated these bolder choices in both home and fashion, giving customers the confidence to showcase their individuality”.

john-lewis-beehiveIndividuality was also demonstrated in our holiday choices, with a 40% rise in long haul holidays according to Kuoni travel agents. Many who stayed in the UK distracted themselves by Pokémon hunting in the park, as sales of John Lewis portable mobile phone chargers soared over 200% in July. Others took to tending to their beehives (searches for “bee house” climbed 62% in March) or colouring in (adult colouring book sales increased 91% in October ’15).

ginWith the political world in turmoil, it appears the pro-EU voters drank away their sorrows, with Sipsmith gin sales increasing 103% the week after Brexit.

Look out for more fascinating retail insights in part 2 of our John Lewis Retail Report special feature