The number of people working in the UK retail industry was down by the equivalent of 70,000 jobs in the final quarter of 2018, compared to the same time in the previous year, British Retail Consortium figures out this week suggest. More than a quarter of retailers plan to reduce their head count still further, the figures also suggest.
The BRC Retail Employment Monitor Q4 2018 showed that retailers employed 2.2% fewer staff during the quarter - and that 29% planed to make further cuts. However, the survey figures also showed that a greater proportion planned to add jobs than had in the previous year.
“The retail industry is undergoing a profound change and the latest employment data underpins those trends,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC. “Technology is hanging both the way consumers shop, but also the types of jobs that exist in retail. While we expect the number of frontline staff to fall over the next decade, there will be many new jobs created in areas such as digital marketing and AI. However, this transformation comes at a cost for retailers who are already weighed down by the increasing costs of public policy, from sky high business rates to rising minimum wage. To support this investment in the future of retail, Government needs to play its part, reforming the broken business rates system to ensure it is fit for the 21st century.”
Commenting, George Charles from money-saving website MoneySavingHeroes.co.uk said: “This is another damning piece of evidence that reiterates the slow death of the high street. Consumers are busy, just don’t have time or are just unwilling to leave their home, so the convenience of being able to browse thousands of options, look for the best deal and have the product then delivered straight to them, appeals to all. We’re all guilty of scrolling through retailers’ websites at 10pm and loading our baskets full of goodies – an experience you just can’t get on the high-street.
“The British Retail Consortium have found out that even the increased footfall over Christmas couldn’t boost sales enough to prevent store closures and job losses, meaning thousands of lives have been affected. High-street stores really need to be pulling out all the stops, be it lower prices, amazing in-store deals or promotions, if they are to save more people from losing their livelihood. With Brexit around the corner, it’s worrying to think that the 70,000 jobs that have already been lost in the sector could just be the tip of the iceberg.”
Jon Buss, MD UK and Northern Europe at Yext, said: “2018 was a pivotal year for many high street names as they’ve had to adapt to the rising tide of digital natives and fierce competition. Where a select few retailers and brands have begun to win real traction is in transforming the retail experience. Experiential initiatives to improve the in-store journey and drive customer footfall have revealed a path to success in 2019.
“Experiential retail offers shoppers something truly unique and immersive. This means thinking about how the store can evolve from shelves and labels, to become a destination of its own. Take Sainsbury’s new ‘experimental’ superstore concept at Selly Oak - the 67,000 square foot store is a pilot for a new format of hybrid supermarket and department store with a food court, the retailer’s first Oasis concession, a revamped beauty and fragrance section and fully integrated Habitat and Argos stores.
“As part of this evolution, we’re going to see even more retailers focused on discoverability and real-time interaction. With the development of conversational technologies, like AI-powered chatbots and digital assistants, brands will need to build communities in and beyond the shopping experience to add real value to their customers’ daily life."