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How technology is impacting retail employment: BRC

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Retailers are employing fewer staff, for fewer hours, according to figures out this week from the British Retail Consortium.

The BRC Retail Employment Monitor for the fourth quarter of 2017 found that employers in the sector had 2.9% fewer staff, working for 3.9% fewer hours than they had a year earlier.

Most, although not all, retailers said they had reduced both hours and employment. At the same time, in-store sales fell by 3.7% during the quarter, and the total number of stores fell by 2.6%.

Looking to the future, almost two-thirds (64%) said they planned to keep staffing levels the same, while 7% said they would be increasing staff levels. But more planned to cut staff levels than had a year earlier.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC said: “As the retail industry continues to transform at a rapid rate, the pace of job reductions is gathering steam. Even seasonal recruitment over the festive period failed to offset the downward trend of falling employment.

“Full-time employees felt the biggest reductions as retailers are seeking greater flexibility in their workforces; a response to pressures felt from the diverging costs of labour versus technology. Indeed, there’s an ongoing shift towards wider retail investment in new or additional technology that’s leading to a net reduction in jobs but is also creating new, better paid ones. The impact of automation on the industry therefore, is more prominent than ever.

“Disruption from technology, compounded by pressure from property taxation, is also behind the fall in the number of retail stores in the final quarter of last year, which was particularly marked in non-food. These pressures to consolidate store portfolios and the workforce is likely to continue through 2018 as structural change gains momentum.

“Against this backdrop, our industry stands ready to work in partnership with government and stakeholders to upskill the retail workforce with the digital skills and confidence to work effectively with new technologies entering the workplace.”

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