John Lewis prepares for May re-openings with 3-stage strategy

John Lewis has put in place a flexible strategy for gradually reopening its 35 department stores and 15 John Lewis at Home stores from as soon as the middle of May. Executives say they are reacting to a perceived change in the Government’s sentiment over the last week, signalling that the end of the full lockdown is in sight.

Managing the next stage of the coronavirus crisis

Andrew Murphy, John Lewis Partnership’s executive director of operations told the Mail on Sunday that John Lewis is “modelling for scenarios where different sizes of shops are able to open at different points in time”.

He called this a ‘portable’ strategy and made it clear the company would wait for a signal from the Government and health chiefs before taking steps to open its department stores. Rather than rushing to open all stores, the most likely plan will be to open “in a minimum of three tranches”.

John Lewis’ store reopening strategy – possible steps

  • The first phase of the plan would likely include stores with large car parks – of which there are about 20 – that would allow staff to drive to work and not need to rely on public transport.
  • Careful measures to manage on-going social distancing for the safety of staff and customers will be planned into the retail space and flow of customers, with certain areas of stores such as fitting rooms and toilets likely to be closed.
  • Smaller department stores are likely to open before the largest city flagships – although this could change depending on infection statistics by location.
  • One consideration is for private buses to be deployed to ferry staff to and from work if public transport restrictions set out by the Government prove prohibitive.
  • John Lewis department stores will make use of tried and tested procedures from its sister business Waitrose (which has continued trading during the crisis), in terms of monitoring shopper flow, payment safety procedures, cleaning schedules, staff communications, and safe re-stocking of product.

Uncertainties around consumer behaviour

John Lewis says it is mindful that public sentiment has changed and that there will be an ongoing focus on health and safety above all else. “There will be no headlong rush to get our shops open just because we can,” said Murphy.

From making curtains to clinical gowns

Separately, John Lewis has announced it is reopening its textiles factory in Lancashire, which usually makes curtains and bedding, to manufacture 8,000 clinical gowns for the NHS.

The department store’s Herbert Parkinson factory is bringing back 15 expert sewers from furlough, who will use medical-grade fabric to make washable protective gowns for staff locally at the Northumbria NHS foundation trust.

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