Norwich’s new John Lewis boss relishes the task ahead

The new boss of Norwich's flagship John Lewis store has unveiled a blueprint to connect with customers and grow the store's online business as she restated its longer-term commitment to the city.

Isabel Macdonald, who started work yesterday at the All Saints Green branch, said she was relishing the challenge of the managing director's job.

She is taking over from Robert Hallam, who will be taking on a head office strategic role in addition to his responsibility as managing director of John Lewis Cambridge

The 32-year-old, who joined John Lewis as a graduate trainee nine years ago, faces one of her first challenges today as the partnership announces its results and bonus payments for the year to all staff, including those at Norwich, at 9.30am.

Nationally John Lewis and Waitrose is expected to announce that staff will see their bonus cut for the first time in three years as the employee-owned firm falls foul of the economic downturn.

John Lewis Partnership, which has more than 75,000 staff, is expected to announce a payout of between 12pc and 14pc of salary in its full-year results, compared with 18pc last year from a bonus pot of �194.5m.

Meanwhile, latest figures from the British Retail Consortium showed the value of business across the retail sector was down 0.3pc on a comparable basis with a year ago, the same drop as in January, as rising total sales were eaten away by inflation.

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Mrs Macdonald, who declined to comment on the results ahead of their publication, said that the Norwich store, which had a �7m refurbishment last year, remained in a strong position.

'Every retailer has found this to be a really challenging year, but for us there is a huge opportunity,' she said. 'We are an employee- owned business and we can afford to to make longer-term decisions.

'To invest nearly �7m in a selling floor in a year that has been challenging has got to be good for Norwich and not just John Lewis but the city overall. Whatever our results – the partners are going to share in the bonus, that's tremendous.

'There are other companies out there who will look at our model and take some lessons from that.

'It means we are able to take long-term decisions. At a time when every retailer is finding the environment very challenging, we can make decisions which are right for our business and our customers, rather than make any knee-jerk reactions.'

She said that her focus will be on maximising the most of the opportunities created by the �7m shop floor refurbishment, and also develop the online 'click and collect' service.

'Just looking at the figures so far this year, we are doing more than 400 customer collections online a week. The next few weeks and months are about making sure I immerse myself in the branch and make sure I am really in tune with what's happening in Norwich.

'The more our shops can engage with customers, the better and that's something I'm keen to be part of.'

Mrs Macdonald, who has moved to the area from Tamworth, said she had been 'blown away' by the reception she had received since coming to Norwich.

'It's fantastic, I don't think I have ever felt such a welcome starting out in a new role, not just from in the branch but also in Norwich

'It's a big responsibility to be based at a shop like this, but I have got 750 partners who are willing and able to do their absolute best for John Lewis.'