The scale of the crisis on Britain’s high streets was laid bare on Wednesday as Marks & Spencer swung to an unprecedented loss, John Lewis axed another 1,500 jobs and experts warned of a near-£7bn plunge in sales as shops are forced to shut again.
M&S posted its first pre-tax loss in 94 years as a listed company, plunging £87.6m into the red for the six months to September as sales of clothing floundered - down from a £159m profit a year earlier.
Chief executive Steve Rowe begged the Government to relax Sunday trading laws next month as the firm braces for a four-week lockdown starting on Thursday.
Rival Sainsbury's is expected to announce thousands of job cuts in its supermarkets and Argos chain on Thursday alongside its half-year results, The Times reported.
Meanwhile, John Lewis told staff that another 1,500 jobs will go at its head office in a battle to restore profitability and streamline the business.
Meanwhile, analysts at Retail Economics warned that this week's tightening of restrictions will cost the shopping industry £6.8bn.
Mr Rowe attempted to strike an upbeat tone despite the bleak winter ahead for M&S, which was already struggling before Covid hit and has lost 81pc of its market value over the past five years.
The firm cut 7,000 jobs in August as part of a bid to simplify its complex structure and focus more on selling online.
Although some of the losses were offset by a robust performance of its food business and a tie-up with Ocado which began in September, revenue fell almost 16pc to £4bn for the half-year.
Mr Rowe said: “In a year when it has become impossible to forecast with any degree of accuracy, our performance has been much more robust than at first seemed possible.
"Out of adversity comes opportunity and, through our ‘never the same again’ programme we have brought forward three years’ change in one to become a leaner, faster and more digital business.”
He said M&S is lobbying hard for Sunday trading restrictions to be relaxed as this would give Britons more time to shop for food safely in the run-up to Christmas - a request that comes as fast fashion chain Primark pushes for permission to stay open 24 hours a day.
Separately, John Lewis said that it expects to save £50m from the latest round of cuts as it seeks to reduce spending by £300m a year by 2022.
The move comes four months after the company permanently shut eight of its 50 department stores following the first lockdown, affecting 1,300 out of 80,000 total workers.
Finance director Patrick Lewis is to leave at the end of 2020 after 26 years with the business.
Mr Lewis - who was in the running for the chairman role that ultimately went to Dame Sharon White - is the only member of the original founding family still working at John Lewis. His great grandfather established the company's first store.
Dame Sharon and Mr Lewis refused to talk about further job cuts last month when they presented their five-year strategy for the two sister brands John Lewis and Waitrose, despite outlining the cost savings.
They are pursuing a controversial expansion into areas such as gardening, furniture rental and property developing in a bid to transform the fortunes of the former high street stalwart.
The measures, which will come into effect from Thursday and last until at least Dec 2, will hammer the industry as it moves into the key Christmas period, the consumer insights company said. To compound matters, pent-up demand in December could leave shoppers queuing for hours when stores reopen.
One difference from the spring lockdown, however, will be that some shops will be able to remain open for click-and-collect trade this time, which should alleviate some of the pain.
Shoppers flocked to shops including Primark, H&M and Pandora, the jeweller, in a last-minute dash before lockdown.