/ Shopping

Does it matter that John Lewis has changed its price guarantee?

Woman going into John Lewis

John Lewis, the company that made its name on dependable customer service, has arguably shaken customers’ confidence by changing its guarantee: ‘Never knowingly undersold’. Will it stop us shopping there?

The thoroughly decent types at John Lewis have upped and tarnished the family silver.

Since 1925, the company has told customers that it is ‘Never knowingly undersold’, meaning that if you bought something at John Lewis, and then found it cheaper elsewhere, it would refund the difference. It also has a team whose job it is to scour competitors’ prices.

The terms have changed

Ever since I can remember, John Lewis was a place where you could assume the store prices were the lowest around. But recently, customers who tried to get a refund under its price guarantee were turned down.

Many hadn’t noticed that some recent additions (in smaller print) to ‘Never knowingly undersold’ meant it no longer related just to the upfront cost of the product.

Since the addition of ‘….on quality, on price and on service’, it now included extras such as guarantees and delivery. So if you found, say, a washing machine for £60 less at Argos, you’d be turned away because the Argos guarantee was one year, not the two (or three) offered by John Lewis.

Can John Lewis still compete on price?

The shopping landscape, and price competition, has been changing, and John Lewis has extended its guarantee to websites as long as the store has a bricks-and-mortar shop.

John Lewis is reportedly saying it’s now putting a ‘great deal of resources’ into checking competitors’ prices and ‘lowering ours, where appropriate’. ‘Appropriate’ must surely mean where it finds exactly the same guarantee and delivery offer as well as price.

You have to wonder how often that’s likely to happen, and, therefore, precisely how much this guarantee is really worth any more.

As a John Lewis customer of many years’ standing, I feel not only that this was done with little acknowledgment, but also disappointed that I can no longer simply assume that its prices are the lowest.

Chris Evans says:
20 February 2011

3 years or more ago I bought everything electrical from JL – Ipods, plasma screens, tumble dryer, Dyson, PCs, the lot. They were mostly competitively priced in the first place and often (especially if you find the more senior staff), they would offer a bit of discount if there was clearly a much cheaper competitor, without bothering to go through the formal matching bureaucracy. This seemed like a win-win. JL got the sale volume and undoubtedly still made a decent, if slightly lower, margin plus they got all my repeat business as they had my confidence. I knew I wasn’t necessarily paying the lowest price, but was confident I wasn’t being ripped off when I considered all the attendent benefits of buying from JL.

No longer. Basically the sales staff seem to have all autonomy or decision making power taken from them. They refer everything to some Undersold Bureaucrat in the accounts office who seems about as amenable than Ryanair’s customer service and in October, the last time I bought anything from them, I had to argue the principles of the Sale of Goods Act for half an hour after the docking system wouldn’t work straight out of the box. Unbelievable! They are now so uncompetitive on price that I don’t give JL more than a cursory glance any longer. It’s really, really sad. I wonder how long it will be before the loyalty they have spent years building up will dissipate for the majority of their loyal customers as it has for me.


When I used to work in retail we used to say that it took 6 years or repeated good service to make a single customer “loyal”, but just one bad sale to lose them.

I’m not sure to be honest if it was ever as clear cut as that, but my retail experience was pre-Internet and although it started just about bang on when the 80’s recession started and ended in 94, I suspect that with The Internet to content with, and the current financial situation too, our old saying is probably more true that it ever has been.

With regard to JL either they have built up too big a clientele of super-rich folk who will pay anything JL ask just to be able to say “I shop at John Lewis”, or else their heady days of burgeoning sales are probably about to end.

Not sure which it will be: we’ll all have to watch and wait to find out.

steve sanderson says:
17 March 2013

About 5 years ago i bought some expensive kitchen work tops from John Lewis, they were defective but they didnt give jot, the slightest splil of basically anything left a stain, and the lady i was talking tootold me that i should live in a dirty house then, customer service at its best. Of course i wrote in to them and around 10 weeks later received a reply apologising for the remarks but they didnt change the tops, so much for the guarentee.When i needed a new tv it felt good buying it from M & S. Recently i was buying a new dydon and i looked in JL and bought it for a whopping £110.00 cheaper in argos


I wonder if any of JLP’s managers are reading this?

If so it would be lovely to think they’d take note of how despised their company has become by some people and how many other people are realising that they are not what they used to be.

If they do take it on board perhaps they will start to address some of the issues – better customer service, more polite staff and increased product knowledge for a start should be quite easy and almost free to deal with.

I’m not holding out too much hope though: there seem to be plenty of shoppers who don’t care if the service is tat, the knowledge is tat and they are sold tat – they are staying loyal to JLP. It’s sad that people can afford to be so profligate but it will suit JLP’s bosses.


The never knowingly undersold thing only ever was really for a 30 miles radius.

I have shopped in JL for getting on for forty years. I think the lack of personal service in their stores is much to do with online bying from JL. The ‘partners’ know their bonus will be made up with online sales and so there is not much point in providing any interest in the customer. I enter the various depts within my local store and nine times out of ten the shop assistants are in pairs or threes chatting to each other about their last evening out. It does not matter if you are measuring up furniture, trying on a shoe and looking round for assistance, you are totally in the main ignored, along with other customers. Even if you do manage to break into their conversations, you are not welcomed at all. Very sad really, and as for we get asked alot for this that and the other but no we dont stock it!!


I find this loud chatting together by staff is prevalent in Waitrose but very rarely
in the other major supermarkets…… to my great annoyance.

Ditto john Lewis.


I have found John Lewis always found a way around this but they always kept their prices way competetive till of late. Having had a winter of discontent with electrical products with DVD Recorder, Microwave and Hoover dying on me I thought of John Lewis but having had such appalling customer service at their Bluewater store on 2 occassions I decided to look around. The DVD recorder I got £45 cheaper inc costing in for a 2 yr extended warranty. The Microwave was £30 including costing in a 5yr extended warranty. These were bought from a previously undicovered gem Co-op Electricals. The hoover I bought from a strictly online retailer and saved £60. John Lewis are going to have to up their ante in a lot of areas or they will lose many loyal customers.

edward kalfayan says:
10 March 2011

I did get wonderful service and advice when buying a TV recently from their Kingston store – including a good hour of an attentive and well informed salesman – much better than the overworked and formulaic service offered from Oxford street. That must come down to the quality of local management. However I am dismayed by their ‘ modernisation’ and introduction of those weasel words and bundling of service charge which I see as a deceitful way of evading their ‘never knowingly undersold’ USP which allowed one to shop there without worrying whether the price was right or not as they were really guarnteeing that it would be.

Now it seems that they have become so ignorant of, and therefore contemptuous, of marketing as
to destroy a reputation forged over many decades. This loss will be irretrievable unless the management do an immediate U-turn for customers such as this one. We will be more assiduous in weighing up alternatives before we buy, and JL will lose all those automatically repeating, because trusted orders. A great shame. A bad decision, but typical,of large corporations once they start to believe in their own inalienable right to our business.