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industry focus

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt!

Fresh calls for a levelling of the taxation playing field between physical stores and online brands has been made by the chair of John Lewis Sharon White who is urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak to ditch the current business rates system.

She has asked to replace the system with a new land tax to allow high street retailers to compete more fairly with online competitors.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, White said that radical reform is required to provide a “much more stable and enduring way to tax” with bricks-and-mortar retail.

“As we get the shot in the arm from the vaccine and the economy takes off we can’t lose sight of adapt, adapt, adapt - those retailers who adapt survive and those who don’t will die,” she said.

She warned the Chancellor that reforms to how businesses are taxed must allow retailers of all types to adapt to new patterns of consumer spending and she also dismissed calls for an online sales tax.

White announced the closure of eight John Lewis stores last July, and another eight this March, leaving it with 34 stores nationwide.

John Lewis has cut the number of shops from 51 to 34 since the pandemic began, putting almost 3000 jobs at risk.

The eight John Lewis stores identified for closure included four smaller At Home shops in Ashford, Basingstoke, Chester and Tunbridge Wells in addition to four full-size department stores in Aberdeen, Peterborough, Sheffield and York.

John Lewis Partnership said at the time that the eight shops were financially challenged prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that it did not believe their respective trading performances could be improved.

“We had doubled the number of stores from 2008,” White said.

“The decisions we have taken have basically taken us back to where we were in 2012. So we have fewer, but now your stores have got to be extraordinary and they have got to be destinations.”

In April, John Lewis department store boss Pippa Wicks said the business will not close any more shops and defended its strategy.

Wicks said John Lewis does not have any more “proposed closures” as it “would not be appropriate for customers or partners”.

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