"Never" means "Almost Never" as John Lewis changes guarantee pledge after 86 years

Is the pressure of competitive action and lower consumer spending starting to tell on John Lewis, previously the undisputed star of the UK retailer sector?

Just two weeks ago it saw its sales drop for the first time in years and now it has quietly eroded the famous “Never Knowingly Undersold” pledge which it has maintained through thick and thin for 86 years.

This pledge, the groundrock of its consumer service and a wonderfully reassuring crutch for its middle class customers, guaranteed that if they could find the same product for less elsewhere, John Lewis would refund the difference.

Now a new clause in the pledge says that it won’t make a refund where it provides a longer warranty than its retailer rivals. Furthermore purchasers who don’t want the extra cover or go elsewhere for insurance on the product will find that the pledge still does not apply to them.

The store has put out a statement, which like all these cases deals in generalities rather than specifics. It declares “We truly believe that Never Knowingly Undersold is as important today as when we introduced it,” and carries on, “value is something that should last a lifetime.”

Nonetheless countless people across the suburbs and shires will be feeling a little bit betrayed today. It’s almost as if Tesco came out and said higher prices are good for us.

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About David O'Reilly

David is a former deputy editor of Campaign and writer for a number of leading titles including Management Today and the Sunday Times. He is a partner in The Editorial Partnership.