John Lewis to end ‘never knowingly undersold’ era on 22 August

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John Lewis is to retire its 97-year-old price pledge “never knowingly undersold” on 22 August but has yet to reveal a catchy new slogan to take its place.

The department store chain told customers in an email it will not accept new claims under the pledge from 23 August, instead promising them – rather long-windedly – it is “always knowingly committed to outstanding value”.

Explaining its rationale, John Lewis said it was scrapping the historic pledge to focus on “everyday quality and value”.

A spokesperson for the company said neither of these were its new slogan but a “short term message at point of sale to let customers know about the retirement of ‘never knowingly undersold’, and will only be used for another couple of weeks”.

John Lewis is expected to launch a marketing campaign to kick off its new sales pitch in the coming weeks. In November last year, it registered a string of potential catch phrases with the Intellectual Property Office, including “John Lewis: Life is beautiful”, “For hopes and dreams: John Lewis”, “For the joy of life: John Lewis” and “John Lewis for all life’s moments”.

The company said it regularly registered trademarks but not all go on to be used.

The staff-owned department store chain announced in February that it would retire its well known slogan this summer because the 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” as they face a squeeze on disposable income from the rising cost of living.

The investment will partly help expand John Lewis’s Anyday cut-price range, which it introduced last year.

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. Only retailers who have a national chain of physical stores are included in the comparison.

The scheme, which cost John Lewis millions of pounds as it was forced to cut prices whenever a rival held a sale, is being ditched as department stores face heavy competition from Amazon and other online specialists, and a surge in costs from energy to staffing.

The retailer first revealed the pledge was under review in March 2020, a month after Sharon White joined as chair.

White is overhauling the group, which is staff-owned and also operates Waitrose supermarkets, with the aim of reaching profits of £400m by 2025 compared with a loss of £26m reported this year. The plan involves saving £300m in annual costs by this year and spending £1bn over the five years to 2025 to revamp shops and its online business.

Business Matters Magazine

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