The structural change in retail continues to unfold, with both employees and hours falling in Q3 2019, reports the BRC, highlighting the 15th consecutive quarter of YoY decline in the retail workforce. 

In Q3, the total number of retail employees fell by -2.8% YoY. Full-time employment saw a decrease of -4.5% compared to the decrease in part-time employees of -1.5%. Total hours fell by -2.6%, with full-time hours also seeing a greater reduction (-3.2%) than part-time hours (-2.0%). This represents a slight acceleration in the fall in employment, with the total number of employees falling by -2.3% in Q2 and total hours falling by -2.5%. 

Two thirds (62%) of retailers indicated plans to increase staff in the coming quarter, above the comparable figure of 43% last year. Nearly two fifths (38%) plan to keep their staff numbers unchanged (in line with the 36% from last year). No retailers surveyed expressed plans to reduce employment levels, as compared to 21% last year. Retailers always increase workforce temporarily during the peak trading period, states the BRC.

These retail employment trends are in stark contrast to the UK labour market as a whole, continues the BRC's report – according to the ONS, UK employment increased by +0.3 percentage points on the year, reaching 75.9% over the three months to August 2019 (just below the record-high employment rate of 76.1%). 

The BRC expects the long-term decline in employment to continue, due to a combined effect of ongoing structural change, weak consumer spending and fierce competition. 

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE, says: “We have seen a persistent downwards trend in retail employment over the past three years, with the Q3 fall of -2.8% equivalent to a loss of 85,000 people across the UK retail industry in the preceding 12 months. Weak consumer demand and Brexit uncertainty continue to put pressure on retailers already focused on delivering the transformation taking place in the industry. While MPs rail against job losses in manufacturing, their response to larger losses in retail has remained muted.

“The Government should enact policies that enable retailers to invest more in the millions of people who choose to build their careers in retail. In order to promote innovation, training and productivity, Government must reform both the broken business rates system, and the inflexibilities of the apprenticeship levy. This will allow retailers to focus on enhancing their digital and physical offerings for customers, support the development of employees and ensure high streets remain diverse and exciting places for everyone.”