John Lewis will permanently shut several more department stores after it fell to its first loss in its 157-year history.
The closures are the second time the partnership, which also owns Waitrose, has been forced to take drastic action to protect the business in the pandemic.
It is fighting back after losing a mammoth £517million in 2020 because of closures and consumers’ rapid shift to online shopping.
Speaking about the effect Covid has had on the business, John Lewis Chairman Dame Sharon White (pictured) said:’It’s a decade’s worth of change in the space of a year’
Bosses warned financial results will be even worse next year and staff will not receive the coveted bonus for two years running, the first time in the firm’s history.
The firm is also reviewing its Never Knowingly Undersold price pledge, which has been in place since 1925, and is already cutting prices to widen its appeal.
It is thought that around eight of department stores will shut, on top of eight shops closed last year, as part of plans to cut £300million of annual costs.
The retail giant did not say exactly how many of its 42 John Lewis shops will close, saying a final decision will be made at the end of March following talks with landlords.
Such a move would likely result in hundreds of redundancies. It has already shed 1,300 shop staff and 1,500 head office workers.
The closure of the large outlets will also be a blow to British towns, which are already reeling from the closure of 600 Debenhams and Arcadia stores.
In total 20,000 stores are expected to close their doors permanently this year, costing 200,000 retail jobs.
Chairman Dame Sharon White said: ‘It’s the biggest economic challenge and public health emergency anyone has lived through, a real economic earthquake. It’s a decade’s worth of change in the space of a year. Those shopping habits have changed irreversibly.’
Bosses said they will open some smaller John Lewis shops on the High Street, which will offer a limited range of products and a place to pick up orders and get advice.
Small John Lewis shopping areas have also been placed in the corner of five Waitrose stores. If successful, they will be rolled out to ‘a significant number of our 331 Waitrose shops’.
But retail expert Andrew Busby said: ‘It feels like the business is being run by consultants. It didn’t seem like there was too much conviction about the stores. It’s almost as if bosses see the stores as a necessary evil for its online business, which is plainly ludicrous.’
A John Lewis spokesman said it would always try to redeploy elsewhere in the business, with redundancies a ‘last resort’.