John Lewis sales plunge as online growth fails to offset shop closures

John Lewis sales have plunged after it was forced to shut stores in face of coronavirus despite a surge in online orders.

The John Lewis Partnership group also said its Waitrose supermarket chain saw sales surge as shoppers stocked up on essentials.

However, the John Lewis department store chain saw total sales tumble 17% in the weeks since March 15, after it closed all its sites on March 23.

The high street retailer warned that a worst-case scenario would see the chain’s annual sales plunge 35%.

Nevertheless, John Lewis said online sales have jumped 84% as shoppers purchased more technology and food preparation products.

The retailer said demand has particularly spiked in some of its “less profitable lines”, with people “buying more Scrabble but fewer sofas”.

Elsewhere, Waitrose sales increased by 8% in the period since January 26 as supermarkets were buoyed by the crisis.

Sales increased both in store and online as shoppers bought more essentials like rice, pasta and long-life milk.

Demand for home delivery has been “especially strong”, it said, with the company increasing its delivery capacity by 50%, which puts it “in good stead” ahead of the end of its contract with Ocado in September.

The John Lewis Partnership group said it is set to receive £135 million in savings from the business rates holiday and will reduce operating costs, including a cut of almost £100 million to marketing spending.

In a letter to partners, recently appointed chairwoman Sharon White said: “We are confident that the future of the business is strong.

“Our short-term trading has though been significantly affected, principally because of the closure of all 50 John Lewis branches.

“The Partnership has been trading for nearly a century. It has survived a World War and bombings, economic crashes and crises.

“Thanks to you, we shall also come through Covid-19 and emerge stronger.”