Is John Lewis in danger of throwing away its long-held and hard-won reputation for being Britain’s best-managed retailer? Guardian Money readers have been filling our postbag with tales of poor service from John Lewis – and even members of staff have joined in, albeit anonymously.
Longstanding customers, some of whom have shopped at the store for 30 years, have described their experience of service levels in recent months in terms of shock and disappointment.
They talk of washing machines and fridges dumped in gardens, nonexistent or cancelled deliveries and repeatedly failed orders. In many cases customers have described how multiple yet different orders all failed in some way.
Staff in the stores continue to be praised in readers’ correspondence but the retailer’s fast-growing online operation, johnlewis.com, has come in for sharp criticism by some.
“The service we received was most un-John Lewis like” has been a common theme in many of the letters we have received.
Customers describe a lack of promised callbacks following problems, leaving them feeling John Lewis is no better than any other online retailer.
One reader, BM, wrote: “John Lewis’s marketing, advertising and reputation are all built on their promises of good customer services, and it is a large part of what still drives people to their stores despite cheaper online outlets. However it won’t attract us to them any more.”
Has outsourcing played a part in the group’s declining standards? In March John Lewis announced a five-year contract with outsourcing group Capita to provide online aftercare from a contact centre in Glasgow. Around 500 staff were moved over from a company called Teleperformance which used to manage the service that Capita now provides. The contract is worth £93.5m.
In October 2012 the retailer awarded parcel firm myHermes the contract to deliver (and carry out returns) for items of up to 15kg bought at johnlewis.com. But myHermes, is no stranger to controversy. In a poll published last year by moneysavingexpert.com almost a third of people who had goods delivered by myHermes rated their experience as “bad”. It was the second worst performer in the survey, behind Yodel.
Just before Christmas the Daily Mail reported that morale among the owner-drivers working for myHermes was at rock bottom, not least because they are paid just 55p per delivery, or 45p for the smallest items.
Meanwhile, Guardian Money has also received an unsigned letter from a group of staff at John Lewis’s London head office that makes allegations about overworked and unmotivated employees. It said: “As a significant sized team at head office, we would suggest John Lewis are on the way to losing [the target of] ‘a great place to work’ too. The organisation has changed in all ways and unmotivated, unrewarded, overworked staff is of course going to affect [the] service – both face to face and behind the scenes – that your readers receive.”
The letter arrived in a head office envelope but we have been unable to establish its authenticity.
From troublesome washing machines to faulty fridge/freezers, the list of complaints is growing. This is what you told us
DM described how she had ordered several items for her new home since August 2014, but has had problems with almost every one.
“We had eight Shuttercraft shutters fitted in August, but two immediately stopped working properly. It took a couple of months of phone calls to get JL to investigate and follow up guarantees. We ordered a new washing machine – the first one was not the advertised dimensions and wouldn’t fit, so had to be taken away. The second one missed two promised delivery dates, by which time I was tearing my hair out.
“The John Lewis brand cooker hood was fitted by my kitchen fitter. It didn’t work. Lights failed on second use and fan doesn’t actually extract any steam. Replacement promised last week with engineer to fit it … fan arrived but not engineer.
“New kitchen ordered: £10,000. JL fitter missed first checking appointment which meant delay in fitting until post Christmas. Wrong handles came with wrong size screws. Wrote to JL store and also main customer service about it all in mid-December but no reply from either.
“Spent quite a few weeks planning new bathroom with JL and paid for them to come and do a plan. Just before we put final order in they cancelled the fitting and said they weren’t doing fittings any more. Several weeks worth of work lost and more months to find and wait for another installer.”
JMcD’s washing machine has never worked. Now the 28-day guarantee has expired and it will be another two weeks before an engineer can come to repair it.
“We moved house recently and ordered four large appliances from John Lewis. The washing machine did not work when we turned it on, and we mistakenly blamed the kitchen electrical sockets. By the time a plumber confirmed it was indeed the washing machine at fault the date was two days past the 28-day refund window. Christmas and the New Year were included in the 28 days, so we were horrified when John Lewis refused to replace the machine, which has never gone through a single wash.
“We spent a very long time on hold while John Lewis telephoned Bosch for advice, once being cut off. John Lewis refused to call us back. We have been given a date for an engineer to come out, in two weeks’ time.”
Taking delivery of a new fridge/freezer and getting rid of the old one proved to be quite an ordeal for SC. And no one seems to be taking responsibility.
“We purchased a new fridge/freezer on JL online, and booked full installation of the new appliance plus removal of the old. On the day of delivery the couriers informed me the old fridge was too big and heavy to remove. This was after they first dragged it into my living room and left it leaking on the carpet.
“They then informed me the new fridge wouldn’t fit in. They told me they could take it away and downgrade it, bringing back a smaller one. I told them this was unacceptable.
“Their next solution was to tell me to recruit four strong men to help them carry it. I was left running up and down the street holding my five-month-old baby looking for friendly neighbours. By the time I had returned they (surprisingly) had got the new fridge into the kitchen. Of course it fitted, I had provided all the measurements.
“Then they told me they couldn’t wet plumb it in, but that it was switched on. I therefore put all our frozen produce back in the freezer. Four hours later (when I returned to the house) I discovered the fridge/freezer wasn’t on at all and all my frozen goods had defrosted.
“I was left holding a baby, with a fridge in my garden, an uninstalled new fridge, an expensive dustbin-load of ruined food and a stained carpet.
“I was told by JL to call the courier company directly to discuss any form of compensation. Despite being outraged at this (JL should deal with any third parties they employ), the courier company told me I had to speak to John Lewis regarding compensation.”
Sally B is not too impressed with the service her elderly neighbours got when they ordered a new washing machine late last year.
“My parents rave about JL service, but this is not my experience. My elderly neighbours ordered a washing machine from JL over Christmas to replace their broken one. John Lewis turned up very grumpy, dumped the machine, did not install it and did not remove the old one. Perhaps this is standard but this has not been my experience with Appliances Online, which is invariably cheaper. The customers in question are both in very poor health.”
JO wrote to say she’d been waiting for a kitchen splashback since early December. Two different delivery dates requiring her daughter to take days off work with lost pay came and went only for it not to be delivered. No explanation came from JL or the supplier.
“After talking to several people in customer services and in the store I drove to the store on Christmas Eve to pick it up as I was assured it had been delivered ‘to store’ only to find that they had completely the wrong item.”
She says she also ordered perfume online for next-day delivery to her nearest Waitrose. That didn’t arrive. At the time of writing she was waiting for a kitchen blind which should have been delivered to her local Waitrose that day, but she had just received a message to say it would not be ready.
BK ordered a washing machine but later got a call from the carrier to say it couldn’t be delivered for three weeks. The courier told her John Lewis shouldn’t have made the original delivery promise as at the time it hadn’t got the machine in stock.
She complained, cancelled the order, and went to Currys and got the machine delivered in 48 hours. Several weeks later John Lewis turned up to deliver the cancelled machine.
“The driver said we were the third customer that morning who didn’t want the delivery. We will not be shopping at JL in the future which is a pity since we have long been faithful and loyal customers.”
JP’s saga of the faulty footstools just went on and on. And the ‘customer care’ received left a lot to be desired.
“I have now received three faulty footstools from John Lewis since September and too many email exchanges and phone calls, dismantling and reassembling footstools, taking pictures of damaged footstools, waiting for footstools to be collected that are never collected.
“Being told by ‘customer care’ they have no record of the order and can only find an order for a toaster … grrr. Another thing they do in the ‘customer care’ section is to send a semi-personal email, making you think someone is on your case, with a unique incident number.
“But of course when you quote this incident number, or refer to the signatory on the email it doesn’t help at all. At one stage during my footstoolgate saga John Lewis took two sums of £60 out of my bank account just to make sure I was still paying attention! NatWest told me there was only one way I could stop them doing this and that was to change my debit card. I have now had all my money refunded from John Lewis, plus what they laughingly call a ‘tangible apology’ of £30 for all my stress/distress and phone calls, not to mention dismantling three faulty footstools and re-assembling others.
“I will never, ever, ever shop online, offline or any other way with John Lewis.”
BW wrote to say he had ordered a £79 micro mini scooter for his daughter, and some towels. The towels showed up three days later but not the scooter.
“After six days I sent a message to the customer services requesting the whereabouts of the package and the response was a cursory ‘we’ll look into it’. No one did look into it and we did not hear from them again.
“So another email and, approaching two weeks since the order, they said someone would be in touch in three to five days.
“The customer service representative said ‘these things happen’, which is kind of missing the point. We ordered from John Lewis because these things do happen but how you deal with them is the difference.
“We chose John Lewis because we wanted assurance of a delivery within their promise of three to five days and the confidence that they would do something about it if it failed. It did fail and they didn’t.
“At the end of the call as a ‘favour’ they are sending a scooter to replace the one that was never delivered weeks ago.
“John Lewis’s marketing, advertising and reputation are all built on their promises of good customer services, and it is a large part of what still drives people to their stores despite cheaper online outlets. However it won’t attract us to them anymore.”
CK wrote on behalf of her brother who ordered two beds – which went to the wrong address. But a lack of communication added to the frustration.
“On 29 December, delivery was made … to the old address on his credit card, not the delivery address we gave them. The delivery man (on the phone) said someone from customer service would ring; no one did. After three days of non-returned calls, the beds were eventually delivered on 9 January, by a very helpful pair who duly assembled them as arranged. It was the lack of response which was so frustrating.”
TC’s honesty in reporting a fault has revealed an infuriating quirk in John Lewis’s 90-day return policy.
“I had a dishwasher delivered at the beginning of December which turned out to be faulty. The manufacturer, Míele, couldn’t visit for at least a week to look at it so I rang John Lewis to ask what they suggested.
“They told me that as I had informed them it was faulty, they wouldn’t exchange it under the 90-day policy. However, had I told them I had merely changed my mind, they would have been happy to. The customer service bloke agreed it was ironic that I, with a genuine (legally justifiable) complaint, couldn’t get an exchange.
“To add insult to injury, it emerged the machine had been damaged on delivery.”
Once in a while, poor customer service works to a customer’s benefit, as Bob found out when he ordered a smaller replacement ironing board.
“In my case, JL failing was to my advantage. I bought an ironing board but returned it as it was too big and ordered a replacement. The first board was picked up and the replacement delivered. I got a refund for the first but was never charged for the replacement. I emailed customer service to bring this to their attention, but received no reply. So I have gratefully accepted a free ironing board.”
What John Lewis says
Customer service is at the very heart of John Lewis and even one unhappy customer is one too many. We don’t always get it right, and in the small number of instances where we fall below our own high standards we work hard to put things right as quickly as we can. We have looked at the letters received by the Guardian and where concerns have not already been resolved we are working with customers to ensure a quick resolution to any problems. We will also make sure that we learn from the customer feedback received.
We are proud of our customer service and our partners across the business work hard to ensure that the 11 million people who shop with us each year have an enjoyable and hassle-free shopping experience. John Lewis makes 14m deliveries a year, and handles 10m calls to and from our customers, and while our ambition is to meet our customers’ high expectations every time, we would urge anyone who is not happy with the service they’ve received to contact us directly at [email protected]
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