John Lewis said today that it will not reopen eight of its stores in the UK in a bid to secure its long-term future.
Approximately 1,300 staff will now enter into a consultation period, with the group vowing to make every effort to find new roles elsewhere in the business if redundancies are made.
The closures will come as a blow to watch brands that regard John Lewis as an important sales channel and are seeing other retail partners consolidate their store networks in response to Covid-19.
The impact of John Lewis’ closures on the watch sector might be softened by the fact that four out of the eight stores that are closing are ‘At Home’ shops in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth, which are focused more on household items.
However, its full size department stores in Birmingham and Watford are included in the cull, as well as hub shops in Heathrow and St Pancras.
John Lewis said that the eight stores had already been identified as “financially challenged” prior to the pandemic, but the situation has accelerated the switch from shopping in-store to online.
Before the virus struck, 40% of John Lewis sales were online. This could now be closer to 60%-70% of total sales this year and next.
Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, said: “Closing a shop is always incredibly difficult and today’s announcement will come as very sad news to customers and Partners. However, we believe closures are necessary to help us secure the sustainability of the Partnership – and continue to meet the needs of our customers however and wherever they want to shop.
“Redundancies are always an absolute last resort and we will do everything we can to keep as many Partners as possible within our business.”
In March, John Lewis announced a major strategic review of its business, with plans to develop a vibrant ecommerce operation earmarked as a key part of its sales model going forward.
Meanwhile, the firm is beginning to get the rest of its store operation back up and running following the lockdown.
A further nine shops in Aberdeen, Ashford, Brent Cross, Chichester, Oxford, Peterborough, Reading, Sheffield and White City Westfield will reopen on 30 July.
Leicester will also reopen when the local lockdown for the city is lifted, taking the total number of reopened sites to 42.