John Lewis charters ships to ensure Christmas stock arrives

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Media caption, 'We don't have a lorry driver shortage problem'

John Lewis is chartering a fleet of extra ships, along with a number of other businesses, to make sure it has Christmas stock on time.

Retailers have been grappling with a host of supply chain problems from driver shortages to shipping delays.

John Lewis chair Sharon White said the business was throwing everything at the issues to make sure Christmas would not be disrupted.

The retailer recorded a pre-tax loss of £29m for the six months to 31 July.

That compares with a £635m loss for the same period last year. Sales for the group rose by 6%, aided by strong demand for homeware, fashion, nursery furnishing and Waitrose online grocery sales.

John Lewis has 34 department stores and 331 Waitrose supermarket stores alongside its online operation.

"We're acting hard and we're acting fast to make sure we can still deliver a fantastic sparkly Christmas to our customers," Ms White told the BBC.

She added that the department store chain had introduced a host of measures to help manage labour shortages: "We've raised wages for heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers and we're really beginning to see the results of that."

There is now a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK, out of a pre-pandemic total of about 600,000, a Road Haulage Association survey of its members estimates.

This has led to a chronic lack of materials for the construction sector, such as cement and timber, as well as problems for the manufacturing sector.

Christmas is when many retailers make most of their profits, including John Lewis.

And it's throwing everything at it to make sure its stock arrives on time. The pandemic has wreaked havoc for the flow of goods around the world.

There's still a shortage of containers and it's also tough getting a space on the vast ships that carry them from China.

Freight costs have also rocketed. And if your stock does turn up as planned, you've got to make sure you have drivers to get the goods to distribution centres and on to stores.

Add in the uncertainty over Covid and no wonder retailers are even more nervous than usual about the all important festive season.

Ms White said the John Lewis Christmas campaign in stores would be delayed by two weeks.

John Lewis said it was focusing on expanding its products and offerings for the holiday season, including 10 new Christmas emporiums in John Lewis and expanding areas related to the department store within Waitrose supermarkets.

However, Ms White sought to temper expectations: "We're not through Covid and there's more uncertainty than we would like."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, John Lewis has announced plans to recruit more than 7,000 temporary workers for the winter

She said there were still containers stuck in various parts of the world.

"We're acting at every single part in the supply chain to ensure that Christmas is saved this year," she said.

"Our customers hopefully won't see anything," she added. "We're on track. But so far, we don't see any significant problems."

On Wednesday, the retailer announced plans to recruit more than 7,000 temporary workers for the winter.

The partnership is hiring people for its supermarkets, department stores and warehouses, including delivery drivers for its online grocery division.

It is also looking to fill 550 permanent, full-time, driver and warehouse jobs.

New joiners will be offered free food and drink to "help ensure we can attract the help we need", it said.

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