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Ongoing transformation of retail reflected in continued decline of retail workforce: BRC

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The British Retail Consortium today pointed to the 14th consecutive quarter of a falling retail workforce as evidence of the industry’s continuing transformation. The nature of employment was changing, it said, with some jobs being automated while others were more focused on the customer experience.

In its latest Retail Employment Monitor, the body pointed to a slowing in the continued fall in retail employee numbers. The total number of employees in the industry fell by 2.3% in the second quarter of the year, to the end of June. Full-time employment was down by 3% while part-time numbers were 2% down. The total hours worked fell by 2.5%, while full-time hours fell by 2.7% and part-time hours by 2.3%. Overall, said the BRC, this represented “a slight slowing in the employment decline, with the number of employees falling by 2.4% in Q1 and hours falling by 2.7%.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Retail is undergoing a period of profound transformation driven by changing consumer behaviours and innovative technologies. 

“As these structural changes unfold we have seen retail employment falling across the country, with a 2.3% drop as compared with the previous year; this is equivalent to around 72,000 jobs being lost. Such declines are likely to endure, hastened by Government policies that continue to add costs to an industry already under immense pressures.”

Retailers continued to open stores, but opened fewer stores during the second quarter, with store growth slowing to 1.7% from 2.3% in the first quarter. Both food and non-food retailers added stores to their estates. The BRC said that the nature of employment within retail was changing. “We are seeing the automation of some retail jobs and changing shopping behaviours such that the store is increasingly serving a different role, centred more around customer experience and offering social activities for which fewer staff is needed,” it said.

Looking ahead, the report also shows more retailers (30%) planning to take on staff in the third quarter of the year than in the second (25%). Some say that they’ll boost their part-time workforce ahead of peak trading over Black Friday and Christmas. The proportion of retailers planning to keep staff numbers the same was unchanged at 65% from 56% last year. 

The BRC called for incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson to look again at the retail industry. 

“With a new Prime Minister and cabinet in place, there is a clear opportunity to rethink the high street strategy,” said Dickinson. “Business rates pose an unsustainable burden on shops and jobs and we urge the Government to provide immediate relief to retailers large and small in order to facilitate much-needed investment in the digital and physical offerings they provide to their customers.”

Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

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