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As John Lewis considers closing yet more outlets around the country, the department store chain stands at a crossroads. Celebrated for its customer service, but under pressure to shift away from physical retail and into online sales as it nurses pandemic losses of £500m, the retailer is poised for major change. Shoppers fear that could mean the final blow for many local high streets.
The group closed eight department stores last year, including large spaces in Birmingham and Watford, smaller At Home stores in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth, and two in travel hubs at Heathrow airport and St Pancras station in London.
The fate of up to eight more now hangs in the balance as John Lewis says it expects to conclude negotiations with landlords before the end of this month. While those stores have not been named, shoppers expressed fears their local outlet would be on the list.
Residents in towns and cities across the country already know their local Debenhams or House of Fraser will not reopen, making the potential loss of a John Lewis an even heavier blow.
“John Lewis has always been part of my retail shopping life, having shopped there and in Waitrose for as long as I can remember,” said Sharon Goddard, 64. “The store in Norwich is a great place to shop with wonderful staff. It is the heart of the city, and now that Debenhams has gone its importance has grown even more. If it were to close, the inhabitants of Norwich and Norfolk would miss it incredibly. It would rip the heart out of this historic city.”
Another long-term fan, Christine Dunn from Penarth in Wales, said: “It will be devastating for Cardiff if it closes.” Dunn said her fears for her nearest store’s future had been raised after it seemed poorly stocked on a visit last summer. “We made the journey in to support the shop and Cardiff city centre. I was disappointed. Before the pandemic it was a lovely shop.”
Others described their local John Lewis as “the centre of town”, “a popular meeting place for people of all ages” and “a pleasurable shopping experience”. While many shopped online, they said trying on clothes, testing out a sofa or getting advice on technology was not possible via the internet, adding that they enjoyed the cafes and visiting the physical store as a leisure experience.
Matthew Wood, 28, from Reading, said John Lewis’s management were being too swift to make changes. “They shouldn’t be closing stores when they have barely any competition left in the department store sector. We still haven’t seen what trading will be like once Debenhams has gone and I think they should wait and see how it plays out,” he said.
But some felt stores were well past their sell-by date and John Lewis had no choice but to move with the times.
In Leeds, one shopper felt staff were not sufficiently knowledgable and had lost the glamour of retail’s better days. “Most of the staff look like they’re wearing pyjamas or as scruffy as you (wouldn’t) believe. Good riddance,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: John Lewis shoppers fear closures could be final blow to high street | John Lewis