John Lewis owner charters ships as it tackles supply chain headaches before Christmas

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John Lewis is preparing for Christmas (Paul Grover)
John Lewis is preparing for Christmas (Paul Grover)

John Lewis Partnership is chartering a fleet of extra ships, alongside a number of other businesses, as part of plans to tackle supply chain woes in time for Christmas, the retail group’s chairman told the Evening Standard.

The business behind John Lewis and Waitrose gave the update as it revealed pre-tax losses have narrowed and sales have bounced back to better than pre-pandemic levels. However, it also cautioned on inflationary pressures.

Sharon White, the chairman of the employee-owned business, told the Standard: “We are going very hard and really fast to make sure Christmas gets saved for our customers.”

The partner added that includes bringing in Christmas tree and bauble orders earlier.

The company, via a freight forwarding partner it works with, has lined up extra boats. John Lewis Partnership is funding that alongside other firms that also wanted to have extra import options.

White also pointed to recent moves such as upping the amount of temporary workers it has in for the festive period to 7000 from around 5000 last year, and increasing lorry driver wages.

John Lewis Partnerships’ efforts come amid industry concerns about supply shortages this year. There has been heightened demand for space on ships, as online orders soared for a number of retailers during the pandemic, coupled with delays due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a combination of the ‘pingdemic’ causing disruption, driving test backlogs and some workers leaving the UK after Brexit has led to a major shortfall in HGV drivers.

White said: “As we look ahead, there is significant uncertainty. Like the whole of retail, we are managing global supply chain challenges and labour shortages. We are seeing inflationary pressures, which we expect to persist.”

In the six months to July 31 John Lewis Partnership’s financial performance showed “encouraging progress”, White said.

For part of that period John Lewis department stores were closed for lockdown, but Waitrose, classified as an ‘essential’ retailer, has been able to keep branches open throughout the pandemic.

Group revenue improved to £5.1 billion, up 5% from a year earlier. John Lewis sales jumped 12% to 1% higher than the same half pre-Covid in 2019, and Waitrose recorded growth of 2%, with the performance 10% up on 2019.

A pre-tax loss of £29 million was recorded, which compared with a £635 million loss for the same half in 2020, and a £192 million profit in 2019 when there was a one off gain from the closure of the defined benefit pension scheme .

Stripping out one off costs, such as those linked with eight John Lewis store closures and around 1300 redundancies, profit stood at £69 million, compared with a £55 million loss and £52 million loss in the prior two years.

The update covers part of year one of a five year turnaround plan to return the business to a profit of £400 million a year.

Plans include introducing more John Lewis ranges within Waitrose stores and building rental homes on under-used parts of the estate.

The partnership has also launched a more value range Anyday, which has been popular with customers.

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