From its beginnings as a draper’s shop that opened in London in 1864, John Lewis grew to become the darling of the UK high street. Renowned for its customer service, admired for its employee ownership model, and with a range of products most shoppers aspired to, it stood apart from the retailing crowd.

The brand still carries plenty of weight but as a specialist primarily in “nice to have” products, it has had a harder time than others as the rising cost of heating and food forces consumers to cut back on non-essentials. The group’s upmarket chain of Waitrose supermarkets has also been sideswiped by this trend amid stiff competition from discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

The downturn in consumer spending has compounded cost issues linked to the partnership’s vast real estate portfolio, which includes 34 department stores and 329 Waitrose shops.

It was reported recently that advisers to John Lewis warned there are “extreme challenges” in making money from the partnership’s scheme to convert parts of its stores into housing, with plans to construct more than 400 flats above a Waitrose in West Ealing resulting in an estimated negative return of £57 million for the business.

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This is presumably why partnership chair Sharon White was said to have been in the early stages of exploring options for changing the business’ vaunted mutual structure in a bid to raise up to £2 billion to upgrade stores and IT systems that have suffered from a lack of investment as the group has gone into cost-control mode over the last few years. She survived a vote of confidence in May among employee-owners after ruling out this option, though many expressed dismay at the retailer’s poor performance.

According to today’s financial results from John Lewis, more people are shopping with the group as it narrowed its losses in the first half of the year. But with further efficiency savings promised in the coming months, it seems inevitable that staff numbers will continue to decline across shop floors that have already been criticised by some for a deterioration in customer service.

The second half of this year, which includes the crucial festive trading period, will be pivotal. But with the group’s turnaround plan now expected to take two years longer than originally scheduled, it is sad but reasonable to wonder whether John Lewis is running out of runway.