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John Lewis staff told to expect store closures

JLPalazzo2John Lewis staff will learn their fate by the end of the month after its chairman warned not every store would re-open.

‘As spending shifts online we want to ensure our stores reflect how customers want to shop: right space, right place. Our shops will always be important and we are proud of our presence on the high street across the country. They provide a sensory experience that online cannot, supported by the expert advice of Partners. And both brands [John Lewis and Waitrose] will remain a blend of stores and online,’ says Sharon White, John Lewis Partnership chairman.

‘We’ve undertaken substantial research into how shopping habits vary in different parts of the country and between online and stores. Customers tell us they want to shop John Lewis closer to home in more convenient locations and they want our stores to be more enticing. We will reshape our store estate over the five years of the Partnership Plan towards: destination stores: showcasing our inspiring products - displaying great design with more space given over to experiences and services that cannot be found anywhere else; smaller service stores: new formats of smaller, more local shops with the very best of John Lewis; bringing our brands closer together: we are trialling the introduction of John Lewis shopping areas in Waitrose stores in Godalming, Horley, Wallingford, Lincoln and Lymington; the early signs are positive. If successful, we will roll out to a significant number of our 331 Waitrose shops. Our plan is for all the general merchandise in Waitrose shops to be sourced from John Lewis; even greater convenience for customers: improved Click & Collect service in Waitrose stores and more local collection points through third parties like the Co-Op.

‘All our John Lewis stores need to be exciting places to shop, more reflective of the tastes and interests of local customers. This will require investment and we are working closely with landlords and local authorities. We are keen to play our part in the revitalisation of the high street.

‘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. 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. I know I am asking so much of partners. Retail is changing fast around us. And the partnership is adapting just as fast. What won’t change are the principles and values in which the partnership is rooted. We have withstood our toughest test and emerged stronger. The strength of the partnership has seen us successfully navigate the pandemic and will see us to a successful future.’