John Lewis has made the decision to permanently close eight of its stores, while planning to reopen its remaining 34 locations from April 12. The closures are a result of these eight stores being unable to sustain large-scale operations, but John Lewis has expressed its intention to expand its presence in the UK by creating more shopping options for customers.

The stores identified for closure include four ‘At Home’ stores in Ashford, Basingstoke, Chester, and Tunbridge Wells, as well as four full department stores in Aberdeen, Peterborough, Sheffield, and York. Approximately 1,465 staff members will be affected by this decision, and John Lewis is currently in consultation with them. However, the company is committed to finding alternative roles within the company for as many affected employees as possible.

Last year, when eight John Lewis stores were closed, about a third of the impacted staff members were successfully placed in permanent positions elsewhere within the company. This latest decision to close stores is part of John Lewis’ ongoing effort to adapt to changing customer preferences, particularly the shift towards online shopping.

Over the past year, the department store chain has seen a remarkable increase in online sales, which now make up between 60% and 70% of total sales, compared to 40% just a few years ago. This trend is expected to continue even after physical stores reopen.

John Lewis has conducted extensive research to understand the evolving shopping habits of its customers across different regions. Unfortunately, it has determined that in some locations with low customer footfall, large-scale stores are no longer financially viable. These eight stores were already facing financial challenges prior to the pandemic, and the company does not anticipate their situation improving post-pandemic.

However, the remaining department stores are seen as crucial to John Lewis’ future success. These stores offer a unique sensory experience that cannot be replicated online and benefit from the expertise of the company’s staff. With fewer but larger stores, John Lewis plans to invest significantly in improving the overall shopping experience, dedicating more space to curated experiences and services that cater to the tastes and interests of local customers.

Convenience is also a top priority for shoppers, and John Lewis aims to enhance its next-day Click & Collect service in Waitrose stores. The company also plans to expand its network of local collection points through partnerships with third parties. It is currently conducting trials to integrate John Lewis shopping areas within Waitrose stores, and by autumn, Waitrose general merchandise products will be supplied by John Lewis. Additionally, John Lewis intends to test new formats of smaller, local neighborhood shops that offer the best of the John Lewis brand.

To support staff members who are unable to secure new roles within the company, John Lewis will provide advice and financial assistance for re-training. It will also establish a £1 million Community Investment Fund to support local projects in the eight areas affected by the store closures. Sharon White, the Company Chair, expressed her sympathy for the affected staff, customers, and communities and acknowledged the significant changes occurring on the high street. However, she reassured customers that John Lewis remains committed to providing its trusted services, regardless of how and where they choose to shop.

Useful links:
1. John Lewis official website
2. UK government guidance on coronavirus