Since 1925, fairness has been heralded by John Lewis as their core value worth paying for. But today their nearly-a-century-old slogan, “never knowingly undersold”, and the accompanying price promise to refund customers the difference if they find the item on sale for a lower price elsewhere, is to be scrapped.
John Lewis’ fortunes are on the floor with last year profits plunging by 45%, so when new boss, Sharon White, looked at the books and where to cut costs, she understandably went after the elevated (and outdated) price promise rather than making more redundancies and fueling more unemployment.
But what does this signal about values in the new world order? Are some worth paying more for and others not, or have we reached a point where values are all too expensive to maintain with any integrity?
A core value is not a corporate declaration but a community standard that demands sacrifices. For years John Lewis has been making financial sacrifices in order to be fair to society, but this decision to bin the overt commitment says to me that these sorts of demanding values are a luxury companies cannot afford anymore.
Supposedly John Lewis are reviewing and improving its proposition, with the new slogan expected to be unveiled in October. But it will be interesting to see firstly whether ‘fairness’ has a place in the new proposition, and secondly whether it demands any form of sacrifice on the side of the retailer. My feeling is it won’t; it will be much more geared towards social responsibility and much less tangible as bricks-and-mortar lose relevance and the company tries to move in a more millennial-friendly and digital-first direction.
Values are difficult to forge, so it would be a shame to see fairness totally scrapped after nearly 100 years of investing and curing it. But maybe those sorts of hardline decisions are about to become de facto as we head into the biggest recession in living memory.