Coronavirus: John Lewis to close eight stores, risking 1,300 jobs

Edmund Heaphy
·Finance and news reporter
·3-min read
The John Lewis department store and sign on its Oxford Street flagship store in London, Wednesday Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
The John Lewis department store on Oxford Street in London. Photo: Alastair Grant/AP

John Lewis said on Thursday that it would permanently close eight of its stores in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, putting the jobs of up to 1,300 workers at risk.

The retailer said it would close two full-size department stores in Birmingham and Watford, its travel hub shops at Heathrow and St Pancras, as well as four of its home-focused stores in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon, and Tamworth.

“Prior to the pandemic, the eight shops identified were already financially challenged and the pandemic has accelerated the switch from shopping in-store to online,” the company said in a statement.

“Before the virus struck, 40% of John Lewis sales were online. This could now be closer to 60 to 70% of total sales this year and next,” it said.

New John Lewis Partnership chairman Sharon White said that the move was necessary to secure the sustainability of the company.

“Closing a shop is always incredibly difficult and today’s announcement will come as very sad news to customers and partners,” she said.

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“Redundancies are always an absolute last resort and we will do everything we can to keep as many partners as possible within our business.”

Because John Lewis is an employee-owned business, all 80,000 permanent staff are referred to as partners.

The company said that it would make “every effort” to find new roles for those made redundant, such as by transferring them to Waitrose stores or its online divisions.

It also announced a series of other supports for those who lose their jobs, and said it would contribute up to £3,000 towards a recognised qualification or training course for employees who have at least two years of service.

John Lewis had previously warned that it was considering permanently closing some of its stores, warning that it had “too much store space” for the way consumers will shop in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

It said on Thursday that while its physical shops will continue to play a “vital role” in its business, it wanted to develop a “vibrant” online operation.

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“Both John Lewis and Waitrose will continue to invest heavily in e-commerce to reflect this shift. Waitrose has already doubled its online capacity since the beginning of the pandemic,” it said.

In a memo sent to the firm’s 80,000 staff, White also warned last week that the retailer would close one of its two large Victoria offices and said it was unlikely that the firm’s partners would receive their bonus next year.

Staff bonuses at John Lewis are currently set at 2%, the lowest level since 1953 — the last time it paid no bonus.

The company warned earlier this year that it was considering axing the staff bonus. There have been just 17 years in total since the company was founded in 1919 that a bonus was not paid to partners, but most of those years fell during World War II.