John Lewis has announced all of its stores will be shuttered from close of business on Monday 23 March until further notice as the country seeks to get a grip on the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus.
This is the first time in the company’s 155-year history where it has closed the doors of its stores and it joins other historic stores, such as Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Fenwick, in making the unprecedented move.
Chairman 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.
“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.”
John Lewis will continue to operate its online business and its 338 Waitrose supermarkets and waitrose.com will remain operational. The food halls within John Lewis Oxford Street and Waitrose shops which share premises with John Lewis space at Kingston, Ipswich, Stratford, Horsham, Basingstoke and Canary Wharf will also remain open.
The company said it had seen a surge in demand Waitrose and online but shop footfall in John Lewis had fallen significantly and “this extraordinary volatility makes predicting full year cash flow and profits difficult“.
“Although there has been a rising demand in food so far, it may peak further, as people are asked to stay at home. We expect Fashion sales to decline but Electricals & Home Technology and some Home product lines to increase as people continue to work from home and need to stay connected,” the company said.
The company said it welcomed the package of support measures introduced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak this week saying that the business rates holiday would save it around £160m over the next 12 months while it also welcomed the deferred VAT payments and wages support.
John Lewis said it has sufficient liquidity to support the business at present but that it was “not complacent” about the situation. “We have reduced our total net debts by more than £1bn over the past five years and doubled our level of liquidity over the same period. We currently have approximately £1.5bn of liquidity, consisting of over £950m cash and £500m of undrawn committed credit facilities,” it said.
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