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Is John Lewis "knowingly undersold"?

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New investigation reveals details

The results of an investigation by the UK’s largest consumer help site MoneySavingExpert.com calls into question John Lewis’s famous ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ policy, after the store failed to reduce the prices of a wide range of products it was aware were being sold cheaper elsewhere.

The High Street stalwart did not drop its advertised prices on 15 out of 16 products it was informed were being sold for less by rivals – even though it agreed to pay out individual price match refunds. These included goods sold by major chains such as Tesco Direct and Toys R Us.

As part of its ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ price pledge, John Lewis promises: “If we find that [high street competitors]are selling the same individual product, sold with the same service conditions, at a lower price, we’ll meet that price in our shops and at johnlewis.com.”

To test this, our researchers purchased a range of different items, all of which were cheaper elsewhere, over two consecutive days in March, from a number of different John Lewis stores and its website. For example, we bought a Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A2 portable bluetooth speaker, which was sold for £299.95 by John Lewis but £239 by a competitor.

After the purchase, we monitored the price of 16 items it had agreed to issue price match refunds on – therefore accepting its price had been undercut. We checked prices online and in a selection of John Lewis stores, but it only cut the price of one of the items over the next seven days (it or its competitor was out of stock on three items, though while these items were still in stock, John Lewis hadn’t dropped its price).

Even when we did a final check of johnlewis.com 14 days after purchase, John Lewis was STILL being undercut on 10 of the original items (it or its competitor was out of stock on four items, and a competitor’s price had risen on the remaining item).

We asked John Lewis to explain why it had failed to reduce prices on so many products. It admitted a good chunk of the products had simply been missed by its “dedicated price-monitoring team”, though argued other price matches were approved for individuals but the store prices on these items had not been dropped because competitor stores were not within eight miles – something it doesn’t make clear on the main page on its website explaining the policy. It says it is now “reviewing its communications to ensure its policy is absolutely clear”.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “John Lewis is a rightly much-loved store. It prides itself on its service and claim to be ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’.

“Yet while its service is generally right up there, our research shows John Lewis is not always the champion of price it wants people to think it is. After all, if it is agreeing to reduce prices because they qualify for its price match as they are cheaper elsewhere, and then continues to sell the same goods at the higher price to everyone else, it knows that it is being undersold elsewhere.”




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