Thursday 9 July 2020 2:18 pm

Boots to slash 4,000 jobs and shut 48 Opticians stores

British pharmacy chain Boots has announced it will slash 4,000 jobs and close 48 stores as it seeks to shore up its balance sheet after months of closures during the pandemic.

Boots said it was consulting on plans to restructure its head office and store teams and close 48 Boots Opticians stores.

Read more: Retail industry calls for VAT cut to be extended to struggling sector

In a statement, the company said: “Boots UK is taking decisive action to mitigate the significant impact that Covid-19 has had on the business and is accelerating the next phase of the Boots transformation plan. This will ensure a long-term and healthy future for the UK’s leading pharmacy, health and beauty business.”

The pharmacy giant said revenue dropped sharply after steep slump in footfall during the lockdown, when its high-earning beauty and fragrance counters were forced to close.

More than 100 of Boots’ larger stores in city centres, stations and airports were also forced to shutter during the pandemic, in addition to the majority of Boots Opticians outlets.

“These factors severely impacted comparable retail sales, which decreased 48 per cent for Boots UK and 72 per cent for Boots Opticians in the third quarter,” the company said.

“Restrictions are beginning to lift, but with an uncertain economic outlook, it is anticipated that the high street will take considerable time to recover.”

The pharmacy chain said it will continue to shift its focus to online sales by investing more heavily in its digital platforms, after Boots’ website saw a 78 per cent increase in sales during the lockdown period.

Its transformation plan will also see the pharmacy chain boost its repeat prescription services, and introduce new online pharmacy and beauty services such as virtual consultations.

Sebastian James, managing director of 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.”

He added: “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.”

It comes as British retail giant John Lewis today announced it will close eight of its UK stores, putting 1,300 jobs at risk as the high street continues to feel the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

John Lewis will close its department stores in Watford and Birmingham, and four At Home branches in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth. The travel hub shops at Heathrow Airport and St Pancras train station will also remain closed.

Around 1,300 employees will enter consultations over potential redundancies. The retailer said it will attempt to offer alternative jobs within the business, which also includes Waitrose, to workers that are made redundant. 

John Lewis chairman Sharon White said: “Closing a shop is always incredibly difficult and today’s announcement will come as very sad news to customers and partners. 

“Redundancies are always an absolute last resort and we will do everything we can to keep as many partners as possible within our business.”

Read more: Harrods slashes 700 jobs as pandemic weighs on high street

Although footfall has hiked slightly after restaurants and pubs were allowed to reopen over the weekend, high street footfall remains half of the 2019 level, according to the latest Springboard data.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that the UK now faces a “major recession”, as months of lockdown has crippled business across sectors., and yesterday announced a £30bn support package to try and revive UK businesses after months of inaction.

Nigel Frith, senior market analyst at Ask Traders, said: “After Rishi Sunak’s announcement of the mini-Budget yesterday, it’s evident that he may have forgotten high street stores altogether.

“The UK know that they are heading for a recession, but the public don’t realise yet how many jobs can actually go within a click of a finger. The unemployment rate is going to be high and figures will be interesting later this month – people don’t realise that if they don’t act soon enough, it will be harder to find a job.”

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