Shock John Lewis warning: 'Regrettably, we do not expect to reopen all our shops at the end of lockdown'
John Lewis Partnership has warned over further store closures after nursing huge losses amid the pandemic.
The staff-owned retail giant, which also owns upmarket grocery chain Waitrose, said it does not expect all its John Lewis shops to reopen at the end of lockdown.
It did not say how many of its 42 John Lewis shops were under threat, confirming it was in talks with landlords and will make a final decision at the end of this month. The group has Scottish department stores in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Some recent reports have suggested that another eight stores were earmarked to be shut, on top of eight announced in July.
The update came as the group swung to a £517 million annual loss after the pandemic hit trade at the department store business.
It has also scrapped its staff – or “partner” – bonus for the first time since 1953, as previously reported, after the coronavirus crisis and “substantial” exceptional costs sent it plunging to the hefty loss for the year to January 30 against profits of £146m the previous year.
Chairman Sharon White said: “Hard as it is, there is no getting away from the fact that some areas can no longer profitably sustain a John Lewis store.
“Regrettably, we do not expect to reopen all our John Lewis shops at the end of lockdown, which will also have implications for our supply chain. We are currently in discussions with landlords and final decisions are expected by the end of March.
“Closing a store is one of the hardest decisions we can make as a partnership. We are acutely sensitive to the impact on our partners, customers and communities, particularly at a time when retail and our high streets are undergoing major structural change.
“We will do everything we can to lessen the impact and will continue to provide community funds to support local areas.”
She added: “A national effort of business, local and national government, and community will be needed to address the challenges facing the high street, communities and jobless youngsters from the sheer speed at which Covid is altering the structure of the economy.
“We are going through the greatest scale of change in the partnership’s 156-year history. As employee-owners, we share the responsibility of securing the partnership for future generations of customers and partners.
“Difficult decisions taken now will hopefully set the course for those next generations.”
John Lewis sales were down 4 per cent year on year, after adjusting for an additional week in the 2020/21 financial year – up 73 per cent online and down 59 per cent in store. Its department stores were closed for at least 20 weeks out of 53, as a result of lockdowns.
The Waitrose business performed strongly as essential stores including supermarkets remained open, with like-for-like sales up 10 per cent on the year.
Waitrose.com grew rapidly, increasing to more than 240,000 orders a week, up from around 60,000 a year ago. But with higher costs to fulfil, this led to a dilution of profit margins.