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Coronavirus: John Lewis and Debenhams latest to shut UK stores

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
John Lewis, Oxford Street, London. Photo credit should read: Doug Peters/EMPICS

John Lewis and Debenhams have announced plans to temporarily close their UK stores.

The leading department store chains followed other retailers Primark, Topshop, New Look, Kurt Geiger HMV, Foyles and Waterstones in announcing stores would shut over the coronavirus pandemic.

John Lewis announced its 50 branches were open for business as usual on Monday, but will not reopen on Tuesday. It marks the first shutdown of every John Lewis store in the iconic store’s 155-year history.

Debenhams also released a statement confirming its stores would close at the end of trading day on Monday “due to the current circumstances.” It said they would reopen “as soon as is practically and safely possible,” while its website will continue as normal.

The John Lewis website, as well as Waitrose’s website and 338 stores owned by the partnership, will also continue to operate. "The welfare of our customers, communities and partners is always our absolute priority,” said the company’s chair Sharon White.

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More than 2,000 John Lewis staff have been transferred already to Waitrose shops to cope with surging demand as retail footfall has collapsed. Remaining John Lewis staff will now be redeployed to online and Waitrose teams “wherever possible.”

The department store said food sales may “peak further” as more households stay at home, and also expects sales of electricals and home products to increase. The John Lewis website has seen “extremely strong demand,” according to White.

Read more: Hospitality leaders fear 500,000 jobs already axed over coronavirus economic slowdown

The partnership welcomed the government’s economic response to the crisis, including support paying wages and a 12-month business rate holiday that will save it £160m.

But it said the closures, for an unspecified period, would mean a “significant net cash outflow.” It announced plans to cut costs to protect liquidity, scaling back on a £500m capital spending programme and £500m of “discretionary” spending.

Non-essential recruitment will be frozen, marketing budgets chopped and stock purchases cut back.

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