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Another 1,300 jobs at risk in UK retail sector as John Lewis shuts eight stores

FILE PHOTO: General view of a John Lewis store, as the company announces it will close all of its stores due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Croydon, Britain, March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) - British department store chain John Lewis said on Thursday it would close eight stores, putting around 1,300 jobs at risk in another blow to the UK retail sector after the coronavirus pandemic accelerated a shift to online shopping.

John Lewis, considered middle England’s favourite department store, follows menswear shop TM Lewin, department store Harrods, sandwich chains Upper Crust and Pret A Manger and fast-food outlet Burger King among other UK brands to have warned in the last two weeks of job cuts running into the thousands.

John Lewis said the closures will include two major outlets in Birmingham and Watford as it would continue to invest heavily in e-commerce, with online sales looking set to represent around 60 to 70% of total sales this year and next, compared with 40% prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

UK retailers have been hammered by the lockdown and data shows that shoppers remain wary of entering stores even as the restrictions ease, with footfall down 50% year on year during the third week of reopening in England and Northern Ireland, according to the British Retail Consortium.

The coronavirus pandemic has heaped additional problems onto many retailers who were already struggling due to tight margins, competition from online-only stores and the cost of business rate taxes.

John Lewis said the eight department stores had already struggled financially prior to the lockdown.

“We believe closures are necessary to help us secure the sustainability of the partnership - and continue to meet the needs of our customers however and wherever they want to shop,” said Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership.

“Redundancies are always an absolute last resort and we will do everything we can to keep as many Partners as possible within our business,” she said, with one option moving some staff to its Waitrose supermarket or online operations.

The other stores to close include two small hubs at Heathrow Airport and London’s St Pancras railway station, and four At Home shops.

Reporting by Kate Holton and Costas Pitas; Editing by Paul Sandle and Susan Fenton

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