BOSSES at John Lewis are deciding which department stores should stay shut permanently once the coronavirus lockdown ends, it has been reported.

It is “highly unlikely” that all 50 sites will reopen, according to the news agency PA.

John Lewis is one of the flagship tenants at Southampton’s Westquay Shopping Centre, along with Marks & Spencer. The store there was unveiled as an experimental "concept shop" after a £3million investment last autumn.

The John Lewis Partnership, which includes Waitrose, saw profits fall by nearly a quarter in its last financial year to £122.6m, which it said was a “weaker performance than hoped for”.

Since March 15, sales at John Lewis have fallen by 17 per cent, with department stores closed but online sales rocketing by 84 per cent. Sales at Waitrose have risen by eight per cent since January 6.

Dame Sharon White, the new chairman of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) and her team are set to address analysts in the City on Wednesday, updating them on the company's performance during the past week.

There has also been speculation that Dame Sharon will need to tap up customers and financial institutions, through a corporate bond, for extra cash.

The Times reported on Monday that the former Ofcom chief is seeking out views to see if investors are willing.

Retail analyst Richard Hyman said: "Does it make sense for John Lewis to close some stores? Absolutely yes.

"No one wants to see people losing their jobs which is what would happen, but the reality is for the market at large, online has been getting bigger and bigger, with John Lewis at the vanguard."

He pointed out that 30 per cent of all retail is already online, adding "for John Lewis that number was short of 50 per cent before Covid-19, although now it's at 100 per cent.

"The reality is the retail world we are all moving into means every retailer needs fewer stores than it did before, including John Lewis, and not addressing this problem puts the rest of the business in jeopardy," he added.

Shortly after arriving at John Lewis Partnership earlier this year, Dame Sharon already warned the company is facing the most challenging period in its history.

She added in February that stores are unlikely to remain open without financial improvements.

JLP said in a statement: "We keep our estate under continuous review in order to ensure we have the right amounts of shops to best serve our customers and remain commercially viable.

"It is too early to make a decision but, as always, any decision that is made is done with securing the long-term financial sustainability of the partnership and is always communicated to our partners first."