John Lewis to close eight stores but West Sussex branches are safe

John Lewis’ two Sussex stores are not at threat of closure, despite the company progressing with its major business strategy review.

The future of Chichester’s John Lewis store looks to be safe despite the company progressing with its major business strategy review SUS-200907-111938001
The future of Chichester’s John Lewis store looks to be safe despite the company progressing with its major business strategy review SUS-200907-111938001

The John Lewis Partnership has announced it will not reopen eight John Lewis shops to ‘secure the business’s long-term future’ and respond to customers’ shopping needs.

It will now enter into consultation with impacted partners about its proposals.

This comes as the final wave of shop reopenings are confirmed, with a further nine stores in Aberdeen, Ashford, Brent Cross, Chichester, Oxford, Peterborough, Reading, Sheffield and White City Westfield to reopen on July 30.

John Lewis’ only other Sussex store is based in Horsham, which reopened in June.

A company spokesperson said: “The shops identified for closure include two of the smallest in the estate — travel hub shops at Heathrow and St Pancras, four At Home shops in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth and two full size department stores in Birmingham and Watford.

“Approximately 1,300 partners across the eight shops will now enter into consultation.

“Leicester will also reopen when the local lockdown for the city is lifted, taking the total number of reopened John Lewis shops to 42. The Swindon outlet will also reopen on July 30.”

If redundancies are confirmed, ‘every effort’ would be made to find new roles ‘where possible’ for partners.

“Opportunities could include transferring to local Waitrose shops or working for and as they continue to grow,” the spokesperson added.

“The partnership has also made a commitment to provide support through a unique retraining fund, which will contribute up to £3,000 towards a recognised qualification or course for up to two years for any partner with two years’ service or more.

“All partners would be given access to a three month support programme with an outplacement specialist to help with CV writing and interview skills.

“In addition to statutory redundancy payments, Partners who have worked with the business for more than a year would be entitled to partnership redundancy pay, which equates to two weeks’ pay for every year of service, regardless of age.

“Those with less than one year’s service who leave on grounds of redundancy would receive an ex-gratia tax-free payment equivalent to one week’s contractual pay.”

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.

The spokesperson continued: “Before the virus struck, 40 percent of John Lewis sales were online. This could now be closer to 60 to 70 percent of total sales this year and next.

“Both John Lewis and Waitrose will continue to invest heavily in ecommerce to reflect this shift. Waitrose has already doubled its online capacity since the beginning of the pandemic.

“This will grow further, with a third online fulfilment centre in Greenford opening in partnership with logistics company Wincanton, and the continuing expansion of Waitrose Rapid, which allows shoppers to order and receive essential items within two hours. Further investment in is also planned.

“John Lewis shops have a vital role to play within the business and we are working on plans to ensure they continue to meet the needs of customers, alongside a vibrant ecommerce operation.

“These plans form part of a major strategic review, announced in March, to ensure the future success of the Partnership. This will report back later this month.”

Sharon White, John Lewis Partnership chairman, said shop closures are ‘always incredibly difficult’ but stressed that this decision was ‘necessary’.

She explained: “[It will] help us secure the sustainability of the partnership — and continue to meet the needs of our customers however and wherever they want to shop.

“Redundancies are always an absolute last resort and we will do everything we can to keep as many partners as possible within our business.

“There are many reasons to be optimistic about the partnership’s future. Waitrose and John Lewis are two of the UK’s most loved and trusted brands and we have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic by responding to the new needs of customers.

“We will soon announce the output of our strategic review which will ensure our brands stay relevant for future generations of customers.”

The John Lewis Partnership said it was intended that a £1 million Community Investment Fund will be provided and shared between the communities to support local projects.

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