One of the UK’s best-known retail brands has told partners it wants to convert empty shop space into mixed-use affordable homes.

Housing is one of the four key areas the ailing retailer is exploring in the hope of recovering profits within the next five years.

John Lewis chairman Sharon White outlined the chain’s strategic review, where becoming a predominantly online retailer was core.

“Shops will always be crucial to the brand but they will be in support of online. Over the next five years we expect to rebalance our shop estate so that we have the right space in the right locations where people want to shop,” said Ms. White.

Partners heard how shops would showcase products and John Lewis would become 60 percent online, compared with the current 40 percent before Covid-19. The partnership’s supermarket chain Waitrose would increase from 5 percent online to 20 percent.

Department stores into homes

Ms. White said: “As we repurpose and potentially reduce our shop estate, we want to put excess space to good social use. We are exploring with third parties the concept of new mixed-use affordable housing.”

John Lewis has 50 shops and its supermarket chain Waitrose 337 retail outlets across the UK. Earlier in the month, it announced that it would not be opening eight of its shops following the easing of lockdown.

New laws allowing developers to turn disused commercial properties into homes without gaining planning permission come into effect in September.

Brokers Hank Zarihs Associates said lenders were ready to offer development and refurbishment finance to enterprises keen to harness the opportunities of transforming disused buildings.

The mutual hopes its strategic review will pay off within the next year and that within five years it will see a recovery in profits. The retailer’s profits fell by 23 percent in 2019 to £123m – the third year of declining profits.

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