Coronavirus: John Lewis 'highly likely' to shut stores following lockdown

28 April 2020, 22:36

John Lewis is "highly unlikely" to reopen all its stores after the coronavirus lockdown
John Lewis is "highly unlikely" to reopen all its stores after the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

John Lewis is "highly unlikely" to keep all its department stores open following the coronavirus lockdown, according to reports.

Senior management for the high-end department store has begun discussions on which branches will remain permanently closed once strict lockdown measures are lifted.

Sources close to the employee-owned retailer said it was "highly unlikely" that all 50 sites would reopen in the aftermath of Covid-19.

The company, much like other high street and retail chains, is battling for its future in a post-pandemic world.

John Lewis was forced to close all 35 of its department stores, along with its 15 'At Home' shops, when the UK entered lockdown in March.

Since then, 400 of its staff have been made redundant and 14,000 have been furloughed.

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It comes as the retailer reported poor results in January, with sales down 23 per cent on the previous year. Increasing rent prices and rising business rates have compounded the chain's problems.

Other well known high street names to go bust during the pandemic include Debenhams, Laura Ashley and Carluccio's.

Dame Sharon White, the new chairman of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP), will address analysts in the City on Wednesday with her team. They will update the group on the retailer's performance during the past week.

JLP also includes Waitrose, which has performed better during the lockdown as it has been allowed to remain open. But, several Waitrose stores have already been closed in recent years.

However, with a major ramp-up of online operations, discussions are under way on whether it will be financially viable to reopen actual stores.

Veteran retail analyst, Richard Hyman, explained: "Does it make sense for John Lewis to close some stores, absolutely yes.

"No one wants to see people losing their jobs which is what would happen, but the reality is for the market at large, online has been getting bigger and bigger, with John Lewis at the vanguard."

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He pointed out that 30 per cent of all retail is already online, adding "for John Lewis that number was short of 50 per cent before Covid-19, although now it's at 100 per cent.

"The reality is the retail world we are all moving into means every retailer needs fewer stores than it did before, including John Lewis, and not addressing this problem puts the rest of the business in jeopardy."

A spokesperson for John Lewis said: "We are working hard on a reopening blueprint at the moment but we will only be able to put it into action once the Government has specified the dates on - and conditions within - which it is happy for retailers to begin to reopen.

"In terms of shops, we keep our estate under continuous review in order to ensure we have the right amounts of shops to best serve our customers and remain commercially viable.

"It is too early to make a decision but as always any decision that is made is done with securing the long-term financial sustainability of the Partnership and is always communicated to our Partners first."