John Lewis drops ‘never knowingly undersold’ pledge

Decision made because slogan’s price promise does not apply to online-only retailers

Last modified on Fri 25 Feb 2022 07.40 EST

John Lewis is ditching its “never knowingly undersold” price match pledge after almost a century, saying it has lost relevance at a time when it faces stiff competition from online retailers such as Amazon.

The staff-owned department store chain said it had made the decision to retire the well-known slogan this summer because its price promise did not apply to online-only retailers, and shoppers were increasingly buying online.

John Lewis said it would, however, invest £500m this year, £100m more than in 2021, in lowering prices to offer customers “everyday quality and value”. That investment comes at time when consumers are facing a squeeze on disposable incomes as bills rise and pay growth fails to keep pace with inflation. It will also expand its Anyday cut-price range.

Under the never knowingly undersold slogan, which John Lewis introduced in 1925, the chain commits to refund customers the difference if they find the same item on sale elsewhere for a lower price within 28 days. The retailer first revealed the pledge was under review in March 2020, a month after Sharon White joined as chair. Analysts said John Lewis was likely to introduce a new marketing slogan when the NKU pledge was phased out this summer.

Department stores are facing heavy competition from Amazon and other online specialists and the never knowingly undersold scheme cost millions of pounds, as the retailer was forced to cut prices whenever a rival held a sale.

The change in tactics comes amid increasing pressure from inflation, driven by increases in the prices of energy, raw materials and transport, which has made shoppers increasingly price-conscious.

Pippa Wicks, an executive director of John Lewis, said: “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 £500m investment means all our customers can trust they’re getting the quality, style and service they expect from John Lewis at great value prices.”

John Lewis said it expected to invest more in its Anyday cut-price range, which it introduced in April last year and which has notched up £125m of sales since then. John Lewis said a quarter of the 2 million shoppers who had bought the brand over the past nine months were new to its stores. This year the brand will extend to swimwear, children’s clothing and an extended range of outdoor furniture.

Martin Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert, said the change would largely affect the few people buying electrical goods who were prepared to check prices against John Lewis’s rivals and then benefit from the department store’s two-year guarantees.

He said: “This is a historic change for the John Lewis brand but won’t have much practical impact for many. The ‘never knowingly undersold’ promise has always been a bit of a psychological sop to consumers, giving an arguably false impression that John Lewis is cheap.

“In reality, it allows the store to charge what it likes and know that, for a few price-sensitive shoppers – less than 1% last year – who are bothered to check prices elsewhere after making a purchase, John Lewis will reduce its price but only to that of its high street competitors.”

Nick Bubb, an independent retail analyst, said the change was “long overdue, as a policy devised back in 1925 was hardly likely to last long into the internet age and nobody quite understood what it meant anyway”.

He expects John Lewis to protect its profit margins despite the increase in investment on price and quality promised by the business.

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