Aug 24, 2020
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John Lewis to row back on own-brand womenswear, adjust price-match promise

Aug 24, 2020

John Lewis’s rarely-out-of-the-headlines chair Sharon White has signalled some major shifts in its strategy. In an interview at the weekend she talked of adjustments to its long-standing price-match policy but also, and perhaps more importantly, reining-in its expansion in own-brand fashion.

Photo: Sandra Halliday

Fashion has, in recent years, been the star category for the company and it has invested heavily in it. That investment seemed to be justified back when it still released weekly sales figures, as fashion was more often than not the biggest growth area.

But post-pandemic, White told the Sunday Times she plans to downgrade women’s fashion development and incidentally to also exit one-to-one beauty such as spa treatments. Instead, homewares and financial services will be a focus while product rental will expand.

She said that she’s looking at less own-brand women’s fashion because “mid-range, mid-price fashion is really hard to do when women are being more promiscuous, buying in so many different places — TK Maxx but also Zara and Selfridges.”

She also said that in its stores, the company needs to “curate better” and focus more on the display consumers see, which at the moment she feels is uninspired.

It’s particularly interesting that she’s targeting Home as a key growth area after years in which the retailer’s Home offer has seen falling sales. She said Home is the department store’s traditional strength “and after the year we’ve all had, home has never mattered more”. She’s “investing massively in home, mainly on the digital side”.  

Aside from the stores, the company will go “digital first” after lockdown propelled e-sales to between 60% and 70% of its annual total, up from 40% last year.

And the digital expansion is part of the reason the company will tone down its Never Knowingly Undersold price promise.

For nearly 100 years, this has seen it promising to refund the difference if a customer can find the same product locally for less. But it doesn’t apply to online sales and with a digital-first strategy, the price promise has been increasingly difficult to maintain and also looks increasingly hollow.

But White said the company isn’t abandoning it altogether. “The proposition is important because it signifies being fair to society. We’re reviewing it to improve it,” she explained.

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