John Lewis and New Look to temporarily close all stores amid Covid-19 pandemic

Retailers John Lewis and New Look have announced the temporary closure of all of their stores in the latest blow to the UK high street amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The John Lewis Partnership said it was the first time in its 155-year history that it will not open its shop doors for customers, but added its online site will continue to operate as normal.

The group said it will temporarily shut all of its 50 John Lewis stores at the close of business on March 23.

Meanwhile, fashion retailer New Look also announced that it had temporarily closed all of its UK stores at 5pm on Saturday.

The company said its shops in the Republic of Ireland shut at the same time on Friday.

John Lewis chairwoman Sharon White, said in a statement: “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, 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.”

While the John Lewis stores will temporarily close, the group said its 338 Waitrose shops will remain open, as will

More than 2,000 John Lewis staff are already working in Waitrose shops to cope with “unprecedented” demand for groceries following the coronavirus outbreak, the group said.

Ms White was even reportedly seen helping to stack shelves in the Holloway branch of Waitrose.

It said staff will be redeployed to provide additional support to Waitrose and “wherever possible”.

John Lewis said a surge in demand in its Waitrose shops and a reduction in footfall at its John Lewis stores made predicting its full year cash flow and profits “difficult”.

“The Government’s decision to introduce a business rates holiday will save the partnership around £160 million over the next 12 months, and in addition, VAT and wages support is welcomed,” the retailer said.

The company said it had about £1.5 billion of liquidity, consisting of £950 million cash and £500 million of undrawn committed credit facilities.

The retailer said its plans to spend more than £500 million this year will now be “scaled back significantly”, while it will also reduce the supply of general merchandise to reflect the impact of the shop closures.

Meanwhile, New Look said its website would remain in operation during the temporary closures, adding that it had extended its refund policy to 90 days.

In a Twitter post, the company said: “These are uncharted territories for all of us and we thank you for your continued support during this time.”