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February 28, 2022

John Lewis could ‘lose identity’ with new quality and value pledge

The John Lewis Partnership is pledging a £500m investment to give the UK retailer quality at value prices as fashion shoppers become more cost conscious and it will also introduce well-known affordable fashion brands, such as Mango and Nobody's Child.

By Fi Forrest

The move is said to build on the success of Anyday, John Lewis’ more affordable fashion and homeware range, that is claimed not to compromise on quality or style, however GlobalData retail analyst Patrick O’Brien argues the partnership is in danger of losing its identity and becoming just another retailer.

He says: “Slowly but surely, competitive pressures are eroding the things that have made John Lewis special.” O’Brien also highlights that as the company plans to end its well-established ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ promise in the summer, it was “a little disappointing” to see the only new commitment so far is for “everyday quality and value”.

John Lewis points out its affordable Anyday brand, which launched in spring 2021, is its most successful launch to date and as part of its new pledge on quality and value, the retailer will also introduce well-known affordable fashion brands Mango and Nobody’s Child as well as furniture brand Julian Bowen furniture and beauty brand, The Ordinary.

John Lewis Partnership revealed in a statement that its Anyday range, which includes but is not exclusive to fashion, has had over two million customers in just nine months. The retailer claims that a quarter (25%) of Anyday customers are new and the brand has already generated GBP125m (US$167.5m) in sales so far.

Other statistics include:

  • Anyday prices are, on average, 20% lower than other John Lewis brand ranges
  • 800 Anyday products are sold every hour across fashion, homeware, technology and nursery
  • The retailer is expanding Anyday with a new swimwear range and kidswear collection
  • The retailer is also introducing more value brands such as Mango.

O’Brien notes that previously John Lewis’ own-label products had premium positioning, and gave the impression of an expensive retailer despite its price promise on branded goods and he says that much of the Anyday home products in particular are rebadged items from its House range. He says: “Anyday though, is an attempt to win younger, less affluent shoppers, and pull them into the rest of the offer.”

He does point out that some of the stats are impressive but believes the success of the range will be more convincing once it can show year-on-year growth.

John Lewis says it plans to proactively lead on great value, rather than reacting to other retailers’ price changes and customers will also benefit from better and more personalised offers and rewards through the My John Lewis loyalty scheme. It adds that the £500m investment in value is 25% higher than the amount spent on keeping prices affordable last year.

The retailer explains that the removal of its ‘never knowingly undersold’ pledge in the summer is due to it no longer being enough to assure trust as it does not apply to online-only retailers despite a growing amount of shopping sales being online.

John Lewis executive director Pippa Wicks says: “Customers are tightening their belts and we’re responding so John Lewis is more affordable for every customer, every day whether shopping in-store or online. Never Knowingly Undersold has been a cherished sign of trust for John Lewis for a century but it doesn’t fit with how customers shop today as more purchases are made online. Our new GBP500m investment means all our customers can trust they’re getting the quality, style and service they expect from John Lewis at great value prices.”

O’Brien points out John Lewis will be announcing its results next month, and he expects it to reveal improving financials. He says, however that “its longer-term success will depend on it being able to convince customers that the price positioning of its wider offer resonates value, i.e. that higher prices than online competitors are justified by all the things that John Lewis has built its reputation on”.

O’Brien concludes: “This includes a great shopping experience, expert pre-sales advice and excellent post-sales care. The problem is that as more sales move online, the first two become more difficult to outshine the competition on, and post-sales care is something it appears to have demoted in importance, due to cost pressures. John Lewis claims to be ‘investing GBP500m in value” this year, which it said was an increase of 25% on 2021, but this is a rather vague claim, and we are not sure it will be enough to move consumer perceptions.”

The John Lewis Partnership is said to be the largest employee-owned business in the UK and amongst the largest in the world, with approximately 80,000 employees who are all partners in the business.

The John Lewis Anyday range was extended last year to include menswear, womenswear, and childrenswear.

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