// John Lewis Partnership will temporarily close all 50 of its department stores amid coronavirus pandemic
// 1st time in John Lewis’ 155-year history that it won’t open for trade – it stayed open during WW1 & WW2
// Stablemate Waitrose will remain open
The John Lewis Partnership has announced it will temporarily close all 50 of its department stores, making it the latest retailer to voluntarily shutter stores amid the coronavirus crisis.
The partnership said the closure of the full John Lewis store estate will be effective from Monday, March 23.
Having opened through World War I and World War II, as well as the Great Depression and 2008 financial crisis, the temporary closures mark the first time in John Lewis’ 155-year history that it would not open its shop doors for customers.
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While Selfridges and Fenwick have both already temporarily shut their department stores, John Lewis’ main competitors House of Fraser and Debenhams have not yet taken this step.
The retail giant is also not alone in announcing temporary store closures when a government-mandated lockdown is not in place like in neighbouring European countries.
John Lewis joins the likes of Clarks, TK Maxx, Ikea, Sweaty Betty, Oxfam, Boden and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia empire in shuttering stores during the crisis.
Meanwhile, stablemate Waitrose will keep its 338-strong nationwide store estate open for trading and customers can still shop at John Lewis via its ecommerce website, as well as have orders delivered to their home or to click-and-collect from their local Waitrose.
Food halls within John Lewis’ Oxford Street flagship in London and Waitrose shops which share premises with John Lewis space at Kingston, Ipswich, Stratford, Horsham, Basingstoke and Canary Wharf will remain open.
However, Waitrose food offers within John Lewis department stores at Watford, Southampton and Bluewater will close.
“The welfare of our customers, communities and partners is always our absolute priority,” John Lewis Partnership chair Dame Sharon White said.
“While it is with a heavy heart that we temporarily close our John Lewis shops, our partners will, where possible, be taking on important roles in supporting their fellow partners, providing critical services in Waitrose shops and ensuring our customers can get what they need through johnlewis.com, which is seeing extremely strong demand.
“The Partnership has traded for over 155 years, during which time we have faced many difficult periods, including two world wars and the 2008 financial crisis.
“On every occasion, thanks to our customers and partners, and the long standing relationships with our suppliers and stakeholders, we have emerged stronger.
“We all need to continue to support each other and our strength and resilience will be tested. But they will not be broken.
“I also want to give my personal thanks to every single partner for their extraordinary efforts, I am truly grateful. And to the wider community for pulling together with us during such unprecedented times.”
The partnership said that wherever possible, John Lewis’ shop floor staff will be redeployed to provide additional support to Waitrose and johnlewis.com.
Over 2000 John Lewis staff are already working in Waitrose shops to assist with the unprecedented demand for grocery and other essential goods as a result of the pandemic.
In addition, earlier this week the partnership revealed measures to assist its staff, including the setting up of a support fund to aid those facing additional costs as a result of the crisis.
The John Lewis Partnership cited plummeting footfall – as Brits take government advice to stay home in order to stop the rapid spread of Covid-19 – as the reason behind its decision to temporarily close its department stores.
For that reason, the partnership said predicting full year cash flow and profits would be difficult, especially with Waitrose experiencing unprecedented demand.
“Although there has been a rising demand in food so far, it may peak further, as people are asked to stay at home,” John Lewis Partnership said in a statement.
“We expect fashion sales to decline but electricals & home technology and some home product lines to increase as people continue to work from home and need to stay connected.
“We are a diversified, resilient and strong business. Our financial strategy is focused on improving our financial strength and flexibility and managing cash and liquidity tightly.”
The partnership also welcomed the government’s decision to introduce a business rates holiday, as it would save the firm £160 million over the next 12 months, along with the VAT deferral and wages support announced yesterday.
The retail giant indicated it has good liquidity – £950 million in cash and £500 million of undrawn credit – suggesting it can cope for the medium term.
Despite this, John Lewis Partnership insisted it was not complacent, and would take further steps to protect its liquidity “as far as possible” by reducing expenditure.
This includes reducing capital and investment expenditure through postponing or pausing projects and change activity.
The firm had originally anticipated spending more than £500 million this year, which will now be scaled back significantly.
The partnership will also defer or cancel £500 million worth of discretionary revenue spend, reduce non-essential spend at all levels, freeze non-essential recruitment and reduce marketing spend.
It will also reduce the supply pipeline in general merchandise to reflect the impact of our temporary shop closures.