John Lewis could convert almost half its Oxford Street store into offices

John Lewis is considering a massive reduction in retail space at its London flagship store by converting some floors into offices.

The staff-owned department store has applied for planning permission to switch over as many as three floors of its Oxford Street building – which currently houses children’s, electrical goods, kitchen and bathroom departments as well as a dining area – to office space for rent.

Plans filed with Westminster council leave four floors of retail space below the three new office floors.

The potential changes, first reported by the London Evening Standard, come as John Lewis battles to stem losses in the face of heavy competition from online and other high street players.

The chain is expected to announce a further fall into the red at its half-year results on Thursday after permanently closing eight of its 50 outlets.

John Lewis said it had no immediate plans to alter the building on Oxford Street, where it has traded since 1864, but was seeking planning permission to give it options in the future, if necessary.

A spokesperson said: “Oxford Street is our largest and oldest shop and has a surplus of non-selling space compared to our newer shops. We have therefore made a planning application for the upper floors of the shop, to give us greater flexibility on how we use this space more efficiently in future, with the potential to have office space at the top of the building.

“While no decisions have been made, any plans would look to further improve our customers’ experience.”

The latest plans have emerged after Sharon White, the new chairman of the department store’s parent group, the John Lewis Partnership, said she would look at downsizing stores as part of plans to reshape the group for the future.

Even before the pandemic spurred the trend for online shopping, department stores have faced particular difficulties as their large sites with long leases have been tricky to adapt to changing shopping habits.

John Lewis’s rivals Debenhams, House of Fraser and Beales have all gone into administration. Beales closed completely before at least one site relaunched under new owners, while Debenhams and House of Fraser have shut numerous stores.

Profits at John Lewis fell 65% in the year to January and the group has said it is unlikely to pay any annual bonus for the year ahead as it tries to cut costs.