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Selfridges Cuts 450 Jobs in Another Blow to British Retail

Selfridges joins the list of U.K. high street retailers slashing jobs.

Selfridges on Tuesday said it would cut 450 jobs, or 14 percent percent of total headcount, across its four luxury department stores and online platform. The company will offer affected staff members various options from voluntary redundancy packages to “permanently adjusting working hours to support your work and home life, taking sabbatical [or] a career break,” Anne Pitcher, group managing director, said in a letter to Selfridges’ team members.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced change and cause us to rethink so many aspects of our lives and will continue to do so as we adapt and respond to a new and evolving reality,” Pitcher said, noting how consumers work, shop and socialize has morphed in a matter of months. “Of course, our high streets were changing rapidly before COVID-19 arrived…. [However,] the speed and magnitude of what is happening right now and the impact on trading means we must make some more fundamental changes to our organization to stay ahead and realize a more sustainable future.”

Pitcher expects Selfridges’ recovery will be slow, with sales forecasted significantly below 2019’s volume. The luxury retailer has been examining its cost structure in a bid to determine how to adapt for the future. “Being fit for purpose doesn’t just mean being efficient and flexible though—it is also about making sure we are strengthening areas of our business that have become even more important to our customers since the pandemic, such as digital, sustainability and experiences,” she wrote.

Rival upscale department store Harrods is in the process of shedding 700 staff members. And mid-tier department store company John Lewis is closing eight stores and cutting 1,300 jobs.

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Other high street retailers are tightening the purse strings, too, in the aftermath of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak. Marks & Spencer last week said it plans to eliminate 950 jobs as it accelerates a three-year turnaround strategy. Future layoffs could further impact its reported 78,000-strong workforce. Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, whose eight brands include Topshop and Topman, is trimming 500 to 2,500 from company headquarters. Shirtmaker T.M.Lewin is shutting all 66 shops and laying off most of its 700 employees in a move to shift sales to its online platform.

But even more cuts in retail jobs could be forthcoming. Bankrupt Debenhams is in need of a buyer or new investors to avoid liquidating. And the U.K. arm of Victoria’s Secret is embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings (known as administration in the U.K). The retailer Next is said to be in the process of acquiring the business, but is not expected to keep all of the lingerie seller’s stores open. It has the exclusive right to negotiate a deal until September, and how many stores it will keep depends on progress with landlord discussions.