John Lewis to axe Bullring store and seven more, talks of e-tail acceleration
The John Lewis Partnership has revealed which of its department stores are set to close permanently following a review of its branches and said on Thursday that eight locations won’t reopen.
The move is intended to “secure the business’s long-term future and respond to customers' shopping needs”.
The shops identified for closure include two full-size department stores in Birmingham and Watford. The first at the Bullring only opened in 2015 while the second at the Harlequin Shopping Centre has been there for 30 years.
The other six on the closure list are less of a shock. They include two of the smallest in the estate — travel hub shops at Heathrow and St Pancras (which is the terminal for Eurostar trains). Given the devastation that has been wreaked in the travel retail sector as lockdowns have seen international travel all but grinding to a halt, this makes sense.
Other branches to close are four At Home shops in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth. Around 1,300 staff members across the eight shops will now enter into consultation.
The announcement comes as the group’s final wave of reopenings is confirmed. A further nine stores 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 John Lewis shops to 42. The Swindon outlet will also reopen on 30 July.
JLP explained that 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. 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 added that both John Lewis and Waitrose “will continue to invest heavily in e-commerce to reflect this shift”.
But it still believes John Lewis shops “have a vital role to play within the business and we are working on plans to ensure they continue to meet the needs of customers, alongside a vibrant e-commerce operation”. These plans form part of a major strategic review announced in March and we’ll hear more later this month.
The company said that if redundancies are confirmed, “every effort would be made to find new roles where possible for Partners who wish to remain within the Partnership”. Opportunities could include transferring to local Waitrose shops or working for the firm’s webstores. The company has also made a commitment to provide support through a unique Retraining Fund, “which will contribute up to £3,000 towards a recognised qualification or course for up to two years for any Partner with two years’ service or more”.
Company Chair Sharon White 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.
“There are many reasons to be optimistic about the Partnership’s future. Waitrose and John Lewis are two of the UK’s most loved and trusted brands and we have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic by responding to the new needs of customers. We will soon announce the output of our strategic review which will ensure our brands stay relevant for future generations of customers.”
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