JOHN Lewis has unveiled the £3million transformation of its Southampton store into an “experimental concept shop”.

The retailer has created new “experience playgrounds” on every floor, where shoppers can watch live cookery lessons, consult experts on fashion or beauty, or see technology explained and demonstrated.

The overhaul also includes the opening of a rooftop garden and a farm shop stocking produce from the company’s Leckford Estate in Hampshire.

Southampton was chosen to try out most of the new ideas first, with the successful ones likely to be picked up at other stores.

Peter Cross, customer experience director at John Lewis & Partners, said: “‘Our new concept shop is an example of how we’re reinventing the department store of the future to make us stand out from the competition.”

The new concepts on offer include:

* Advice from interior designers at the World of Design, ranging from free 15-minute drop-in appointments to home visits helping customers remodel their living spaces.

* Courses ranging from pan-Asian cooing to home baking at the Waitrose Cookery School.

* A roof garden filled with apple trees. From December 5, it will offer a menu inspired by the countryside.

* A farm shop selling items from the Leckford Estate, 25 miles from the Southampton shop.

* The Download, an arenea for offering impartial advice on choosing and setting-up gadgetry.

* The Style Studio, where men and women can take advice from personal stylists, with walk-in wardrobes replacing fitting rooms. Customers can have a glass of wine as they choose from racks of clothes. Men who do not want a formal styling sessions can book a free “walk and talk” style session on the shop floor.

* The Beauty Society, offering personal consultations and make-up talks, with customers able to experiment with different brands and styles.

* The Experience Desk, a concierge service where customers can book sessions or buy gift experience packages.

John Lewis has been an institution in Southampton since the company acquired the Tyrrell & Green department store in the 1930s. The store was rebranded as a John Lewis ahead of its move into Westquay in 2000.

Store manager Paul Marsden said: “We’ve got a lot of history tied up here and a good relationship with our customers and the feedback we get from our customers is amazing, so what better place to test an experimental, experiential store than here?”

Peter Cross said: “How people shop has changed fundamentally. This is a direct response to that.”

He said 40 per cent of the company’s trade was now done online but people wanted human contact when shopping.

“In some ways, we are going back to what department stores used to do,” he said.

“We believe that all humans are social creatures and there’s a limit to what you can do on your device alone. People want some connection in shops.”

The 310,000sqft store has 628 staff and around 90 per cent of them have had special training for the opening of the concept shop, with around 7,000 hours invested in training.

Stylists at the Style Studio have been to the London College of Style, while those at the Experience Desk have had hotel concierge training.