John Lewis Partnership has announced the temporary closure of all John Lewis stores in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
All 50 sites will cease trading today (Monday 23 March), after the “difficult decision” was confirmed by its board.
It marks the first time in the group’s 155-year history that its stores will not open to the public.
The John Lewis website, which generates half of the brand’s business, will continue to operate as normal. Customers will be able to have orders delivered to their home, or choose to Click and Collect from their local Waitrose.
Meanwhile, all 338 Waitrose shops across the UK will continue to remain open, while waitrose.com will also continue to trade as normal.
The partnership also confirmed that over 2,000 John Lewis Partners are now working in Waitrose shops to assist with the “unprecedented demand” for groceries.
Where possible, they will also be redeployed to provide additional support to Waitrose and johnlewis.com for its non-food online business.
The group said that it had seen a “surging demand” in its Waitrose and online business, while in-store footfall in John Lewis has tumbled amid the outbreak. While it expects fashion sales to decline, it predicts that electrical and home technology lines will increase as people increasingly work from home.
Due to the “extraordinary volatility” of current trading, however, the group said it was “difficult” to predict full-year cash flow and profits.
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.”
She added: “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.”