Boots set to cut 4,000 jobs as retailers reel under pandemic stress


The Walgreens Boots Alliance said in a statement that the sales impact from Covid-19 was as much as $750 million in its third quarter, or three months to the end of May. (Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
The Walgreens Boots Alliance said in a statement that the sales impact from Covid-19 was as much as $750 million in its third quarter, or three months to the end of May. (Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

UK pharmacy giant Boots on Thursday (9) said it will cut more than 4,000 jobs after the country’s coronavirus lockdown slashed sales, especially affecting its opticians.

The US-owned health and beauty retailer said it planned “significant restructuring across its head office, store teams and opticians… resulting in a reduction of its headcount of more than 4,000 and the closure of 48 Boots Opticians stores”.

Boots UK managing director Sebastian James said cutting the workforce by seven per cent would allow the pharmacy “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.

Boots meanwhile said that Covid-19 had “accelerated the shift by consumers towards digital channels and online shopping”.

Parent group Walgreens Boots Alliance said in a statement that the sales impact from Covid-19 was as much as $750 million in its third quarter, or three months to the end of May.

“This reflected a dramatic reduction in footfall in Boots UK stores — down 85 per cent in April — as consumers were advised to leave home only for food and medicine,” the statement said.

“While most Boots stores remained open throughout the UK lockdown to provide communities with pharmacy and essential healthcare, our largest premium beauty and fragrance counters were effectively closed” along with almost all 600 opticians, it added

The world’s sixth-biggest economy shrank by 25 per cent in March and April and could be heading for its biggest fall in 300 years in 2020, with the unemployment rate on course to more than double to about 10 per cent, according to official projections.

UK retailers, already struggling with high rents, business taxes, tight margins and online competition, have been particularly hammered by the lockdown and data shows shoppers remain wary of entering stores even as restrictions ease.

John Lewis, middle England’s favourite department store, said it would close eight stores and lose a possible 1,300 jobs after it predicted that online sales would make up to 70 per cent of its total sales this year and next, from 40 per cent prior to the crisis.

“Closing a shop is always incredibly difficult,” said Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership. “However, we believe closures are necessary to help us secure the sustainability of the Partnership.”

Already, thousands of job losses have been announced by the menswear shop TM Lewin, department stores Harrods and Debenhams, fashion stores Oasis, Warehouse, and Arcadia, and the DIY outfit Travis Perkins.

Most have warned that a recession was looming, and they were cutting numbers now before demand drops further.