John Lewis to close eight more stores, putting 1,500 jobs at risk

Department stores in York, Peterborough, Sheffield and Aberdeen to shut and ‘at home’ shops in Ashford, Basingstoke, Chester and Tunbridge Wells

John Lewis has confirmed plans to permanently close eight more outlets, including department stores in York, Peterborough, Sheffield and Aberdeen, with the potential loss of almost 1,500 jobs.

The staff-owned group, which reported its first-ever full-year loss earlier this month, said it would also permanently close four “at home” stores, which specialise in homewares, in Ashford, Basingstoke, Chester and Tunbridge Wells. All stores are currently closed because of the government’s coronavirus high street lockdown but the eight will not reopen when the rules change on 12 April.

The latest closures come after John Lewis permanently shut eight stores in 2020 amid a shift to online shopping, which has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Online trading now accounts for three-quarters of the department store’s sales and the closures indicate the retailer thinks that won’t change when the shops reopen.

City and town centres around the UK are reeling from dozens of department stores shutting in the past two years after the collapse of Debenhams, which two years ago still had more than 160 stores, and Beales, which had 22 stores. House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer have also been closing outlets.

Department stores, which have been the focal point of town centres for more than 100 years, and more recently the crowd-pulling anchor stores of big shopping centres and retail parks, have suffered from a mix of rising costs and changing consumer habits. The switch to online shopping was hitting department stores hard before the pandemic forced them to close.

While some buildings are being converted into housing, offices, indoor markets and for leisure uses, such as bowling and crazy golf, there are concerns that a number of town centre landmarks could now be left vacant for years. John Lewis said that department stores remained important to provide a “sensory experience” not available online. However, it said that cutting down on the number of large stores would enable it to invest more in the 34 remaining outlets. It also wants to open smaller neighbourhood shops and John Lewis sections in its Waitrose supermarkets.

Sharon White, the chairman of John Lewis Partnership, the department stores’ parent group, said: “Today’s announcement is incredibly sad news for our affected partners, for our customers and for the communities we’ve served over many years.

“The high street is going through its biggest change for a generation and we are changing with it. Customers will still be able to get the trusted service that we are known for – however and wherever they want to shop.”

Five of the shops that are closing have been opened since 2010 – a £20m refurbishment of the Peterborough store was only completed in 2019.

Sheffield city council, which last year paid £3m to John Lewis as part of a deal to retain its department store, said the retailer was still tied to the lease agreement and would have to pay to exit that.

Nalin Seneviratne, director of city centre development at the council, said: “The planned closure of John Lewis is sad news. As Cole Brothers in 1847, then as John Lewis, it has been a retail landmark in our city for decades.

“But Sheffield is a resilient city, and we already have in place ambitious plans for a city centre that competes on a global stage.”

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John Lewis said it would make “every effort” to find new jobs for those affected by the closures, including at its Waitrose supermarkets business. Those who leave will have access to a £3,000 retraining fund and payments of two weeks’ pay for every year of service, regardless of age. Those being made redundant with less than one year’s service will receive one week’s contractual pay.

The company is also outsourcing its Waitrose distribution centre in Leyland, Lancashire, to the logistics firm XPO, affecting 436 staff.

Those workers will no longer be JL “partners” with access to the group’s annual bonus scheme, but will be transferred to XPO this summer.

The company said Leyland remained an important part of its operation but “remains significantly underused”.


Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

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