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John Lewis offers Wi-Fi for in-store price comparison

M-commerce iPhone app in the works

Britain's biggest department store John Lewis is to offer customers free in-store Wi-Fi so they can compare its ticket prices with rivals, the employee-owned partnership has announced.

The company will install the access in all its stores by Christmas with partner BT OpenZone, which will require customers to hand over their email address to access the service.

Far from being a simple convenience, the company has decided to embrace what it sees as a new age of m-commerce, price matching competitors under its famous 'never knowingly undersold' catchphrase on condition that they are also bricks and mortar outfits.

John Lewis reckons that 60 percent of its customers research products online before making purchases, "accessing product information and viewing ratings and reviews to influence their purchase." In the near future there will be also a free iPhone app to aid this process.

"We recognise that mobile phones have become a crucial part of people's shopping habits," said Simon Russell of John Lewis. "The roll-out of Wi-Fi in our shops is a big step forward in helping customers to have all of the information they need at their fingertips to make an informed purchase."

John Lewis will become the first UK retail enterprise to offer free Wi-Fi, and the move will be seen as part of an inevitable shift in high-street shopping. Online retail holds huge dangers for high-street companies, many of which are struggling to compete with Internet-based firms.

Some have opted to sell online in parallel to their bricks and mortar presence but that has tended to undermine sales; if they offer lower prices people never visit the shop but if they don't customers go elsewhere.

John Lewis's hope is that it can mix the two worlds up, offering high levels of customer service - still a major worry for some when buying certain items from faceless online vendors - with sometimes slightly higher prices.

Orthodoxy says they will fail but there is plenty of evidence that many consumers will pay more if they feel they are insuring themselves against a retailer's indifference should the product not perform as expected.

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