High-end department store John Lewis (JLH.L) is planning to replace its famous “never knowingly undersold” pledge to match rivals’ prices.
Dame Sharon White, the company’s new chief executive, told the Sunday Times that she would replace it with “fair value for all,” amid radical plans to change the business.
As part of the plans, White also said she would upgrade the homeware department and financial services and introduce new ventures such as housebuilding and offering customers the opportunity to rent products.
The chief exec hinted at a “digital first” approach to help the business catch up with its rivals.
It comes as up to 60% to 70% of sales are being made online, with the brand’s slogan promising to refund the difference if customers purchased one of its products but found it cheaper elsewhere within 28 days — but the policy didn’t match prices with online-only retailers.
In 2019 online sales were at 40%, with the increase attributed to the coronavirus lockdown.
The chain is reviewing the tagline to “improve and reaffirm” John Lewis’ reputation as a “socially responsible” retailer and to “shout more” about its values.
“The proposition is important because it signifies being fair to society,” White told the Sunday Times.
The 53-year-old economist became Britain’s most high-profile businesswoman overnight when she was appointed chairman of the company, having previously served as a civil servant for almost her entire career.
John Lewis has already announced the closure of eight of the chain’s 50 stores, including a £35m flagship above Birmingham New Street station, which only opened five years ago after it struggled to adapt to challenges arising from the pandemic.
Before the coronavirus crisis hit, the chain, which is run as a partnership, had warned that it might not pay the usual staff dividend as competition caused a severe slump in profits. Last year, the total sales fell by 1.5% to £11.5bn ($15bn).
The company’s Waitrose arm is also facing challenges as its long-standing relationship with delivery service Ocado comes to an end at a time, when more people are online shopping.
The “never knowingly undersold” slogan was first used by John Lewis in 1925.