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Boots and John Lewis confirm branch closures

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Boots has announced nearly 50 optical stores are to close while John Lewis said eight stores will remain closed due to the impact of coronavirus.

Health and beauty chain Boots said it will close 48 optical stores while it is also consulting on restructuring its head office and store teams.

This will result in 4,000 staff being laid-off – around 7% of its workforce.

It comes as Boots revealed retail sales decreased 48% while its optical stores saw sales fall 72% as lockdown measures took hold.

While restrictions are beginning to lift, it said the economic outlook remains uncertain and it needs to take “decisive action” to mitigate the significant impact of Covid-19.

However, it noted that the pandemic accelerated the shift by consumers towards digital channels and online shopping. By investing in and doubling its online capacity over lockdown, this drove a 78% increase in sales over the period.

Sebastian James, managing director, Boots UK, said: The proposals announced today are decisive actions to accelerate our Transformation Plan, allow Boots to continue its vital role as part of the UK health system, and ensure profitable long-term growth. In doing this, we are building a stronger and more modern Boots for our customers, patients and colleagues.

“We recognise that today’s proposals will be very difficult for the remarkable people who make up the heart of our business, and we will do everything in our power to provide the fullest support during this time.”

John Lewis to close eight stores

Meanwhile, John Lewis has also announced store closures and job losses “to secure the business’s long-term future and respond to customers’ shopping needs”.

The shops identified include travel hub at Heathrow and St Pancras, four At Home shops in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth and two full size department stores in Birmingham and Watford.

It said even before the pandemic, these branches were identified as “financially challenged”.

And with sales shifting online, it could see the current 40% of digital sales climb to 60-70% of total sales this year and next.

Approximately 1,300 staff jobs across the eight shops are at risk, though John Lewis said if redundancies are confirmed, “every effort would be made to find new roles where possible for partners who wish to remain within the partnership”. This could include moves to local Waitrose shops or working for the online parts of the business.

Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, said: “Closing a shop is always incredibly difficult and today’s announcement will come as very sad news to customers and partners. However, 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. Redundancies are always an absolute last resort and we will do everything we can to keep as many partners as possible within our business.

“There are many reasons to be optimistic about the partnership’s future. Waitrose and John Lewis are two of the UK’s most loved and trusted brands and we have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic by responding to the new needs of customers. We will soon announce the output of our strategic review which will ensure our brands stay relevant for future generations of customers.”

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