New figures from the British Retail Consortium


BRC survey out today suggest that the high street continues to suffer from online sales.

Year-on-year total employment fell by 2.4% in Q1 2019, a higher reduction than the one of 2.2% seen in Q4 2018. This was a result of structural change in the retail industry triggered by the advent of online sales and other technologies.

This mirrors the downward trend in employment at the industry level shown by ONS data. Most recent ONS figures show a decline in employment of 2.1% in Q4 2018 and 2.9% 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% year-on-year, similar to the reduction of 2.8% of Q4 2018. The majority of survey participants reduced labour requirements compared to last year, with some increasing stores and also hours and employment.

Store growth was steady at 2.3% in Q1 2019, same rate of change as in Q4 2018. Positive store growth found in our 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 in our sample.

17% of retailers indicated plans to reduce staff in the coming quarter, above the comparable figure of 13% last year, and 67% seek to keep their staff numbers unchanged (down from 75% last year).

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium, said: 
“Yet again, the number of retail jobs fell during the first quarter of this year, with a 2.4% 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. 

“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.”