The John Lewis Partnership has decided to temporarily close all of its 50 John Lewis shops at the close of business on Monday 23rd March, as a result of the global coronavirus outbreak.
The firm’s website will continue to trade, as will Waitrose stores and the Waitrose website.
This will be the first time in the 155-year history of the business that it will not open its shop doors for customers.
The John Lewis website – which generates half of the brand’s business – will continue to operate via home delivery or click and collect from Waitrose stores.
Waitrose branches remain open, and its online grocery deliveries are continuing too.
Chair of the John Lewis Partnership, Sharon White, said: “The welfare of our customers, communities and Partners is always our absolute priority.
“While it is with a heavy heart that we temporarily close our John Lewis shops, our Partners will, where possible, be taking on important roles in supporting their fellow Partners, providing critical services in Waitrose shops and ensuring our customers can get what they need through johnlewis.com, which is seeing extremely strong demand.
“The Partnership has traded for over 155 years, during which time we have faced many difficult periods, including two world wars and the 2008 financial crisis.
“On every occasion, thanks to our customers and Partners, and the long standing relationships with our suppliers and stakeholders, we have emerged stronger.
“We all need to continue to support each other and our strength and resilience will be tested. But they will not be broken.”
Ms White added: “I also want to give my personal thanks to every single Partner for their extraordinary efforts, I am truly grateful.
“And to the wider community for pulling together with us during such unprecedented times.”
More than 2,000 John Lewis employees are already working in Waitrose shops to assist with the unprecedented demand for grocery and other essential goods.
Wherever possible, John Lewis staff will be redeployed to provide additional support to Waitrose and johnlewis.com for the online, non-food business.
The firm says it is seeing a surging demand in Waitrose and online while footfall in John Lewis stores has fallen.
They added that the extraordinary volatility makes predicting full year cash flow and profits difficult.
There has been a rising demand in food at Waitrose, and this may peak further, as people are asked to stay at home.
The firm expects fashion sales to decline but electricals and home technology and some home product lines to increase – as people continue to work from home and need to stay connected.
Bosses say it is a diversified, resilient and strong business.
They welcomed the government’s decision to introduce a business rates holiday (expected to save the Partnership around £160m over the next 12 months) and in addition, VAT and wages support is welcomed.
The John Lewis Partnership has reduced total net debts by more than £1bn over the past five years and doubled its level of liquidity over the same period.
The company currently has approximately £1.5bn of liquidity, consisting of over £950m cash and £500m of undrawn committed credit facilities.
The company expects to take further steps to protect this by reducing expenditure, such as:
- Reducing its capital and investment expenditure – postponing or pausing projects and change activity. (An anticipated £500m expenditure has been scaled back significantly.)
- Deferring or cancelling discretionary spend. JLP currently has more than £500m of annual discretionary revenue spend and is reducing non-essential spend at all levels, freezing non-essential recruitment and reducing marketing spend.
- Reducing the supply pipeline in general merchandise to reflect the impact of temporary shop closures.