UK retail employment falls 2.4% in Q1 2019

April 29, 2019 - United Kingdom

As a result of structural change in the retail industry triggered by the advent of online sales and other technologies, total employment in the UK retail sector fell by 2.4 per cent in the first three months of 2019. The reduction was little more than 2.2 per cent decrease registered in the previous quarter, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The BRC data mirrors the downward trend in employment at the industry level shown by Office for National Statistics (ONS) data. Most recent ONS figures show a decline in employment of 2.1 per cent in Q4 2018 and 2.9 per cent in Q3 2018. However, this is in stark contrast with the UK economy as a whole, which sees employment at the highest levels since ONS records began.

In Q1 2019, total hours were down 2.7 per cent year-on-year, similar to the reduction of 2.8 per cent of Q4 2018. The majority of survey participants reduced labour requirements compared to last year, with some increasing stores and also hours and employment.

During January-March 2019, store growth was steady at 2.3 per cent, same rate of change as in Q4 2018. Positive store growth found in the BRC sample is in contrast to the ONS figures showing that the number of local units is in decline in the UK. This is due to the expansion of smaller format stores by several retailers, BRC said.

Around 17 per cent of retailers indicated plans to reduce staff in the coming quarter, above the comparable figure of 13 per cent last year. Meanwhile, 67 per cent seek to keep their staff numbers unchanged, down from 75 per cent last year.

“Yet again, the number of retail jobs fell during the first quarter of this year, with a 2.4 per cent year-on-year fall in employees; this would be equivalent to losing 74,400 people across the retail industry. While the number of stores rose, this was mainly driven by an increase in small format stores, with many larger stores closing—resulting in a net job loss. And more jobs are likely to disappear unless there is a shift in Government policies,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

“Retail is undergoing a period of unprecedented change in response to new technologies and changing consumer behaviour. The investment required to successfully navigate this transformation is being held back by the rising cost of public policy. Over three million people rely directly on the retail sector for jobs, with many more working throughout the supply chain. Yet spiralling business costs pose a grave threat to these jobs–as recent administrations, CVAs, and store closures show,” Dickinson added. (RKS)