The John Lewis Partnership says it is “forgoing profit” to help customers, partners and suppliers navigate the challenges of the cost of living crisis.
The employee-owned company, comprising the eponymous department store chain and Waitrose supermarkets, reported a loss of £99m for the half-year to 30 July compared to a red figure of £29m a year earlier.
It said the heightened loss reflected its decision to shield shoppers from some of its rising costs during the period.
The statement revealed a one-off cost of living support payment for its staff, known as partners, with full-time workers securing £500.
Those on part-time hours would receive less.
Entry level pay for employees would also increase by 4%, it said, while all partners would receive free at-work meals over winter.
The cost of the overall package was put at £50m.
The partnership admitted at the time of its last results statement in March that it had passed on “small” hikes to prices across its operations, reflecting the growing cost of food and manufacturing linked to record energy prices.
It said on Thursday that the outlook for the rest of its financial year, including the key Christmas period, was “highly uncertain” due to the subsequent impact on consumers’ discretionary spending.
John Lewis said there would be a strong focus on value to help maintain sales, with £500m to be invested in its pricing across the 2022/23 financial year.
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It reported a 3% increase in comparable sales at the department store chain over the first half to £2.1bn.
At Waitrose, on the same basis, sales were 5% lower at £3.6bn reflecting the impact of high COVID lockdown demand over the first half in 2021.
Dame Sharon White, the partnership’s chairman, told an analysts’ call she expected the government’s energy price guarantee to be a “game-changer” in terms of consumer spending power ahead.
But she earlier cautioned: “No one could have predicted the scale of the cost-of-living crisis that has materialised, with energy prices and inflation rising ahead of anyone’s expectations.
“As a business, we have faced unprecedented cost inflation across grocery and general merchandise.”
She added: “We are responding to the cost of living crisis by supporting those who need it and by stepping up our efficiency programme.
“We are forgoing profit by making choices based on the sort of business we are, led by our Purpose – Working In Partnership For A Happier World – by helping our Partners, customers, communities and suppliers.”