Virus-hit UK department store John Lewis shuts shops

In this file photo taken July 2, 2020 shows the entrance to a John Lewis store in Oxford Street, central London. — AFP pic
In this file photo taken July 2, 2020 shows the entrance to a John Lewis store in Oxford Street, central London. — AFP pic

LONDON, July 9 — John Lewis today said it did not plan to reopen eight stores shut during Britain’s lockdown, affecting 1,300 jobs.

The company, whose physical stores were already struggling before the coronavirus outbreak as shoppers increasingly switched to online purchases, said it expected to sell the majority of its goods through the internet this year and next.

“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,” John Lewis said in a statement.

“Before the virus struck, 40 per cent of John Lewis sales were online. This could now be closer to 60 to 70 per cent of total sales this year and next.”

Among the eight shops shutting permanently is a department store in England’s second biggest city Birmingham and a much smaller outlet at London’s Heathrow airport.

John Lewis forms part of the John Lewis Partnership comprising also the upmarket Waitrose supermarkets.

“Closing a shop is always incredibly difficult,” John Lewis Partnership chair Sharon White said in a statement.

“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.”

During the pandemic, John Lewis staff have had up to 80 per cent of their wages paid for by the UK government under the state’s furlough scheme, which finance minister Rishi Sunak has said must end in October.

Replacing the scheme will be a package worth £30 billion (RM162 billion) unveiled yesterday by Sunak.

The new measures include bonuses handed to companies for retaining furloughed staff and for offering apprenticeships amid fears of mass youth unemployment resulting from Covid-19 fallout.

Britain is in the final stages of rolling back nationwide coronavirus restrictions imposed on March 23, starting with the hospitality and tourism industries.

The country has suffered Europe’s deadliest virus outbreak, with nearly 45,000 deaths, and the worst economic downturn among the G7 leading industrialised states. — AFP

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