Anne Pitcher, Selfridges group managing director, said Tuesday in a long letter to staff that 14 percent of employees, or 450 jobs, are likely to be slashed as the store girds for tougher times ahead in the wake of COVID-19.
Pitcher said, while the team had already weathered very hard times, “sadly the challenges ahead remain very real.” She added that cutting so many jobs was “the toughest decision” the store has ever had to make.
The pandemic, Pitcher said, has forced change “and caused 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.”
Recovery will be slow at Selfridges, with sales this year forecast to be “significantly less” than they were in 2019. “It will, without doubt, be the toughest year we have experienced in our recent history,” Pitcher said.
The store needs to make “fundamental changes,” and has been looking at every aspect of the business, “our structures, our costs, our ways of working — from top to bottom, leaving no stone unturned to ensure we are fit for purpose and the future. This has involved reviewing all nonessential expenses as well as pausing projects and initiatives where prudent to do so,” the letter said.
At the same time, Selfridges also plans to strengthen aspects of the business that have become even more important to its customers since the pandemic. These include the digital channel, sustainability practices and experiences.
“Nobody imagined when we started the year that things would unfold like this and lead us to having to make such momentous decisions. It is a huge responsibility and I appreciate how incredibly unsettling receiving this news today must feel, prompting all sorts of thoughts and emotions,” Pitcher said.
Selfridges is the latest big British fashion retailer to announce layoffs, after Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Overall, the coronavirus pandemic has laid waste to high-street stores and jobs at every level of the market.
London’s luxury stores have been hit particularly hard following the collapse of international tourism, with quarantine and social distancing measures further denting consumption.
Earlier this month, Harrods revealed plans to lay off 14 percent of its staff and witnessed one of its retail partners, the mall owner Intu Properties, file for bankruptcy. Harvey Nichols would not put a number on the layoffs it was planning, but confirmed that headcount would shrink.
Selfridges’ plans to lay off staff come just six months after the store touted healthy Boxing Day sales and a great Christmas season, with sales rising 5 percent across all channels.
On Boxing Day last December, the traditional start of the holiday sales in Britain, Selfridges said it was trading on a par with last year, the store’s historic, biggest trading day.
The store’s highest-performing departments were women’s designer accessories, women’s and men’s shoes, beauty, kids’ wear and toys. As reported, the store had recently welcomed the first European branch of FAO Schwarz.