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EDITORIAL How the nature of working in retail is steadily changing as shopping continues to shift online

Image: Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock

In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter we’re reporting as the latest ONS jobs figures show a small, and perhaps unexpected, expansion in the number of people working in the retail industry. There’s a warning that this number may fall if staff currently on furlough lose their jobs, but there’s also the interesting insight that the nature of retail jobs is now changing. More people are joining retailers’ online businesses instead, in roles from technology to fulfilment, while fewer people are employed in-store. 

Today we have a good example of that difference with news from Boohoo that it has seen a 32% rise in sales during its latest quarter, compared to the previous year. That’s a quarter in which it bought three Arcadia brands – Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton – as well as Debenhams. All of those brands were bought out of administration after the businesses that previously ran them failed. Their shops have now closed with the collective loss of thousands of jobs. But at the same time, the retailer is now expanding its fulfilment. One new warehouse is now open and another is scheduled to go live this quarter – the latter with the potential to employ a further 1,000 jobs on top of the 330 people who already worked at the former Arcadia site.

Ted Baker this week show how it invested online during a year in which more sales came from ecommerce.  Despite this, it says its stores remain vital to the business, both for brand awareness and to showcase its products to shoppers.

Urban Outfitters, meanwhile, is rolling out fast, cloud-based in-store analytics to its stores in the US and Europe as it looks to enable staff to make local, data-based store decisions more efficiently – and to spend more time with customers. 

And there are entirely new retail ventures being created as different types of businesses go online. Fish wholesaler Swansea Fish is now selling online, having found consumers eager to buy direct during lockdown. In today’s guest comment, Tracey Gilbert of IBM iX takes us under the bonnet of building a virtual car forecourt. 


Whether there will, collectively, be as many jobs in new and expanding online retail as there were in now-closed stores remains to be seen. Certainly they are likely to employ different people. But, as we see from Urban Outfitters’ example, in-store staff may well become ever more adept in using the data to make the shops where they work more successful – eroding the barrier between in-store and online staff. 

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