High street favourite John Lewis is going mobile and will for the first time stock smartphones on its shelves in an ambitious move to sate people's appetite for mobile devices and grab a share of the rocketing market.
More than 25 sim-free handsets will go on sale online from today, while the department store is partnering with Vodafone on in-store concessions offering contracts through the mobile network from the autumn.
Anyone buying a smartphone from John Lewis will benefit from a generous two-year guarantee. That's in addition to the retailer's "Never Knowingly Undersold" promise, which will match prices offered elsewhere. Contract phones will also come with two years' accidental damage insurance.
John Lewis is positioning itself as an "honest broker" that can provide clear pricing to its customers in a market that offers hundreds of different contracts.
The store has handpicked an edited selection of Vodafone contracts to offer to customers which it believes are the best deals.
The in-store concessions, which will be staffed by both John Lewis and Vodafone staff, will be trialled in its Cheadle and Oxford Street stores, with ambitions to expand further.
"We look to roll it out nationwide very quickly when we get results from the trial," said electronics buying director Jonathan Marsh.
"We represent between eight and 10 per cent of the electrical market in the UK. The goal to achieve that type of share down the line," Marsh told City A.M. "We have bold ambitions to grow quickly and represent a typical John Lewis share like we do elsewhere [in other categories]."
The new offering is the result of 18 months of planning when the retailer began building a strategy for mobile based on customer demand from web searches and in store.
On partnering with Vodafone, Marsh said: "We started there because they offer great range of tariffs and similar principles and culture to John Lewis. They were also very flexible in terms of how they want to work with us." The department store didn't speak to other mobile networks about the partnership, he added.
"We offer own broadband and it's very successful on the principles of demystifying offers and offering great value," said Marsh.
"We wouldn't rule it out in the long, long term, but it's not on the agenda now."
The retailer may also look to build on existing partnerships it has with smartphone makers such as Apple and Samsung to offer exclusive products to John Lewis customers such as different colour options when new devices launch, Marsh told City A.M. "Our customers are early adopters."
While John Lewis has offered some handsets in the past, it's the first coordinated move by the retailer to grab a share of the billion-pound market. More than 90 per cent of Brits own a mobile phone while there are more than 80m mobile subscriptions in the UK.
The collapse of standalone mobile retailer Phones 4u last year has also left a gap in the market.
"We've not previously had a considered proposition before," said Marsh. "There has been a lot of change, on length of contracts - typically it was 12 months, but that's now two years - and devices are changing a lot quicker, people are using them more frequently and are often deciding to pay out right."
"It's a good time to get involved in the space and respond now," he said. "There's definitely a role for John Lewis in this market, when there's a lot of uncertainty and distrust."