John Lewis's "Never Knowingly Undersold" pledge has been called into question following an investigation that claims it did not drop prices on products it knew were being sold cheaper elsewhere.
Consumer website MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) said the department store did not drop its advertised prices on 15 of 16 products it was informed were being sold for less by rivals, even though it agreed to pay out individual price match refunds.
The John Lewis website promises that: "Our dedicated price-monitoring team proactively check the prices of branded products at our high street competitors every day, including online and during sales. If we find that they 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.
"So we don't expect you to find a lower price elsewhere. But if you do, you can easily make a price match request."
MSE said its researchers bought a range of items, all of which were cheaper elsewhere, over two consecutive days in March, from a number of different John Lewis stores and its website.
They then monitored the price of 16 items John Lewis had agreed to issue price match refunds on, therefore accepting its price had been undercut, but said the retailer only cut the price of one of the items over the next seven days.
A final check of johnlewis.com 14 days after the purchases found it was still being undercut on 10 of the original items.
MSE said John Lewis admitted some of the products had simply been missed by its 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.
MSE founder Martin Lewis said that while the store's 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.
"If John Lewis wants to tout its 'Never Knowingly Undersold' catchphrase, it should put up or shut up, or it risks losing its great reputation."
John Lewis said: "Never Knowingly Undersold is at the heart of everything we do and we are disappointed that MSE focused on a small number of specific examples rather than the millions of prices that we lower each year.
"We will look at the detail of their report to see where we can make improvements for our customers in either our processes or communications on the website."
Save money on shopping: ten great tricks
Save money on shopping: ten great tricks
The more work you are prepared to put in, the more you stand to save. If you put your shopping list into mysupermarket.com, you can identify where each individual items is cheapest, and can technically buy every single item at its lowest possible price.
If that sounds a bit too much like hard work, a reasonable compromise is to shop at two supermarkets: once at the weekend and once mid-week. You can buy each item at the cheapest of the two shops, and save money without devoting hours to shopping.
There are several deal-sharing sites, including hotukdeals.com and latestdeals.co.uk. Most of them have a ‘freebies’ section, where you can get items completely free, and all have a section where they post fantastic deals that are well worth taking advantage of.
They will often point the way to coupons for brilliant discounts too.
The more time you have spare to spend looking for these, the more you can save.
It’s worth following your favourite brands on Facebook or Twitter. It’s also important to pick up in-house magazines, try your free local paper, and check any letters from supermarket loyalty schemes for your vouchers. If you have a Nectar card, visit the website before you shop, so you can upload the latest deals to your card.
While you’re in-store, keep your eyes peeled for promotions on packets, and on receipts. Often the deal-hunting websites will offer a short cut to many of these, but if you have the opportunity to do some legwork, you will find plenty of others.
Compare the price of your branded goods (after you use the coupon) with the cheapest supermarket alternative. If the discount makes it the cheapest option, then feel free to use it immediately.
However, if it doesn’t bring the price down below the own brand price, then don't throw it away. Hang onto the coupon, and check Mysuupermarket.com every few days to see if there’s an offer running on the brand at any time before the coupon expires. A deal plus a coupon is often the cheapest option.
Prices change all the time, but it pays to have a shopping list annotated with the usual price - or an old receipt - on hand when you are shopping. When something is on sale, compare it to the usual selling price from your list, to decide if it’s really as good value as it purports to be.
The frugal experts have decent storage areas at home, so if there’s a very special deal on washing powder or toilet paper, tins or toiletries, they can stock up for a few months at a knock-down price. It’s not generally worth doing on fresh produce, or packets with a short shelf life though, because throwing something away that’s out of date will undo all of your good work.
There can be some incredible bargains in the ‘yellow sticker’ sections of the supermarket. Most stores will have a spot for fruit and vegetable reductions, somewhere for chilled food price cuts, one for bakery products, and a final one for those with a longer shelf life that may be a bit battered, or separated from the outer packaging. Check them all for a possible discount.
The ’yellow sticker’ items will usually be reduced at least twice a day: once in the afternoon and once later in the evening. If you can wait to shop at around 7.30pm or 8pm you can get astonishing discounts.
If you want to time your shop exactly, then your best bet is to ask in store when they do their final reductions - don't be shy!
Get to know the rules around freezing ‘yellow sticker’ items, so you can buy when they are cheapest and use over the following weeks and months.
Don't assume something is perishable without checking. Everything from cheese to beansprouts is fine to freeze as long as you treat them correctly (beansprouts need blanching, chilling in ice water, and freezing immediately).
It’s never worth buying something just because it’s cheap: you also have to be able to factor it into your life. If you can't immediately think how you would use that over-ripe avocado, a pack of cut-price tongue or kippers, then don't buy them.