Profits fall to almost zero in the first half of the year as its department store chain matched discounting “extravaganza days” by rivals.
As reported by the BBC, John Lewis Partnership chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield said the retail sector was facing “challenging times”. Its results, which include Waitrose, showed profits for the six months to 28 July sank 99% from last year to £1.2m.
The retailer also warned that full-year profits would be “substantially lower”.
The company is rebranding its stores to John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners to highlight chain’s 85,000 members of staff, known as “partners” who are given an annual bonus based on the chain’s profits.
“With the level of uncertainty facing consumers and the economy, in part due to ongoing Brexit negotiations, forecasting is particularly difficult but we continue to expect full year profits to be substantially lower than last year for the partnership as a whole,” the retailer said.
In the first six months, profits at the John Lewis department store business were hit hardest. Sir Charlie said that the stores’ profit margins had been squeezed in “what has been the most promotional market we’ve seen in almost a decade”.
He told the BBC’s Today programme: “The biggest single reason for the decline in profits is all about margin”.
The department store pledges to be “never knowingly undersold” – cutting prices to match those of competitors, which have also been discounting.
“This year there has been twice as many extravaganza days as there were a year ago and actually the discounts have been even deeper,” Sir Charlie said. “We’re never knowingly undersold at John Lewis, so of course we are matching that, and that affects margins.”
Like-for-like sales – which strip out new floor space – at the John Lewis stores fell 1.2%, and it reported an underlying operating loss of £19m compared with a £54m profit a year earlier. At Waitrose, like-for-like sales were up 2.6%, but operating profits fell 12% to £96.4m.
The group had warned in June that its half-year profits would be wiped out and that it would invest more in developing “unique” products and services, as well as placing more emphasis on its own brand.
It said it would continue to invest between £400m and £500m per year in the business.