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John Lewis reviews replacing price pledge

By Michelle Russell 24 Aug 2020

John Lewis & Partners has indicated it could replace its 'Never Knowingly Undersold' price promise as part of sweeping changes being made by the UK department store retailer.

John Lewis reviews replacing price pledge

John Lewis & Partners has indicated it could replace its ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ price promise as part of sweeping changes being made by the UK department store retailer.

New chairman Sharon White told The Sunday Times she expects the price pledge, which has been in place since 1925, to go.

The policy, which promises to refund the difference if you buy something and find it cheaper elsewhere within 28 days, does not match prices with online-only retailers. It has made the proposition harder to defend given competition from online pure plays has intensified.

“The proposition is important because it signifies being fair to society. We’re reviewing it to improve it,” she told the publication.

A spokesperson for John Lewis said in a statement: “As flagged in March, we are reviewing our ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ price promise to ensure we offer fair value for how our customers shop today. We’ve had fair value as part of our proposition for almost 100 years and fair value will continue to be part of our proposition going forward, whether that’s in a more modernised form or not.”

John Lewis launched a strategic review of its business in March following a full-year profit tumble of 23% year-on-year.

The retailer made it clear it would retain its two brands, John Lewis and Waitrose, but also focus on quality and value, with Partners empowered to offer products and services that were more local. There was also a pledge for greater emphasis sustainability.

Sofie Willmott, head of apparel at data and analytics company GlobalData, notes John Lewis & Partners’ price promise has been a key part of its USP in the past, reassuring shoppers that it will offer the best value on branded items, alongside often generous guarantees coupled with excellent customer service.

However, she says chairman Sharon White is wise to adapt and evolve the retailer’s proposition as the heavily promotional trading environment shows no signs of waning and the price promise is costing John Lewis & Partners its profits.

“Joining the partnership six months ago amidst tough times in retail and for department store players in particular, Dame Sharon White has had more to deal with than she could have imagined but she has proved she is willing to make drastic changes and steer the retailer in a new direction in order to survive.

“Unlike its department store competitors Debenhams and House of Fraser which continue to look lost and forlorn, hoping their customers will one day return, the John Lewis Partnership is taking steps to adjust to changing consumer shopping habits to try to safeguard its future.”

Earlier this month, the Partnership rolled out a new progressive supplier engagement programme to all of its 120 UK manufacturing suppliers in a move that replaces traditional ethical audits and aims to create more rewarding jobs for the people who make John Lewis own-brand products.