When John Lewis released its full year results on Thursday, it was keen to prove that it still had an army of loyal customers.

“I love a lunchtime walk around John Lewis,” one shopper said in a video posted by the company alongside its results. “There’s so much colour and the displays are fantastic,” said another. “I like coming to stores and browsing.”

Such sentiment has not been shared by all customers visiting John Lewis and Waitrose stores in recent years. Many who previously saw it as a touchstone in towns and city centres, instead complained that shops had become tired and uninviting.

“John Lewis used to be my store of choice as customer service was excellent and buyers did all the hard work sourcing reliable good value goods,” one reader wrote last October when the Telegraph asked for shoppers’ views. “This is no longer the case.”

A former John Lewis executive says: “There’s serious work to be done. The stores really need looking after.”

Shops have become rough around the edges as the partnership directed its focus towards novel business lines such as finance and housebuilding. Under Dame Sharon White, John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which also owns Waitrose, pledged to make 40pc of profits outside of retail by 2030.

The goal has led to a lack of focus and customers have been losing patience. Marks & Spencer leapfrogged JLP in the rankings of Britain’s biggest shops over the past year, according to Retail Week’s survey last month. Lidl could move ahead of JLP in total sales by early 2028, it warned.

Now, bosses are starting to pay attention. Alongside confirming its first profit since the pandemic hit, JLP on Thursday announced a half a billion pound investment plan.

“Retailers are eternally dissatisfied people and all of us can see many ways of improving,” Peter Ruis, the newly hired department store head, told reporters on Thursday.

The bulk of JLP’s £542m investment next year will go towards refreshing both John Lewis and Waitrose stores, modernising its technology and simplifying the business.

John Lewis will be doubling the size of the beauty hall at its Oxford Street flagship this autumn – just one example of how it will be modernising its estate.

“It’s all about a return of our mojo,” Ruis said.

The former John Lewis executive says: “What these places really have needed is a bit of investment. If you threw some cash back into stores, that’d be great.”

The £542m investment total – which is 70pc higher than the previous year – comes despite the fact staff will not receive their annual bonus for the second consecutive year.

However, chairman Dame Sharon White insisted that this was in fact what workers, who are co-owners of the business, want.

She said staff were consistently telling executives they wanted more investment in stores and more investment on pay, rather than a bonus.

“We know what partners really want,” Dame Sharon told reporters on Thursday. “We are meeting those priorities that partners have set.”

Alongside the higher investment total, £116m will be invested in lifting staff pay.

Implicit in the renewed focus on shops is the fact that other pursuits – from building rental properties to financial services – are taking a back seat.

Nish Kankiwala, who joined as chief executive a year ago, stated clearly that his focus was on retail. Efforts to reinvigorate the department stores are already “bearing fruit”, he claimed.

“This year, a million new customers came through the door and we returned to profit. We see a significant opportunity, which is why we’re doubling down on investment.”

A former senior John Lewis director said the pivot back to retail was “encouraging” and “a step in the right direction.”

Richard Lim from Retail Economics said it was “absolutely the right strategy for them”.

The diversification drive had sparked scepticism from many, including the former John Lewis chief Andy Street who last year said: “I genuinely don’t know why they’ve decided to do that.”

It had also proved difficult: plans to build tower blocks on top of Waitrose stores in London had met with local opposition and been tied up in red tape and consultations.

Lim said: “The focus on other areas outside of retail has been a distraction for them and as a result, parts of the core retail business have suffered.”

John Lewis has fallen behind rivals on pay in recent years: its new entry wage rate is £11.55 an hour, compared to £12.02 at Tesco and £12.40 at Aldi. (John Lewis claims it offers workers “a much broader set of benefits” than rivals and its average for non-management pay will be £12.35.)

Then there were the shops themselves. James Bailey, Waitrose chief, admitted to The Telegraph last year that some of its stores were “terribly organised”.

While JLP is most associated with its department stores, Waitrose has a far bigger footprint: the partnership has 329 Waitrose stores, compared to 34 John Lewis department shops.

The supermarket is expected to be a major focus for spending plans over the coming year. 80 Waitrose are to be refurbished and new ones will be opened, with both full range supermarkets and convenience stores planned.

“Our optimism comes from the work we’ve done to work out where those shops will be and how much demand there is out there,” Bailey said. “We believe we’ve got lots of opportunities to reach new customers.”

Dame Sharon said: “We are making progress and turning a positive corner.” Still, she said the partnership was “clearly not complacent” in what it would mean to get more customers back.

“There’s a lot of hard yards to go.”

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