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Technology Driving Retail Job Losses

The growth of online shopping and new technologies has driven a loss of almost 75,000 retail jobs since last year, according to new data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The BRC’s retail employment monitor showed that the number of retail employees in the first three months of 2019 dropped 2.4 per cent on a year-on-year basis, equivalent to 74,400 jobs in total.

It said that ‘structural changes’, such as technology and e-commerce disrupting the retail industry, were behind the fall in employment.

This marked a larger decrease in retail roles than the reduction of 2.2 per cent seen for the fourth quarter of 2019, further compounding the decline of Britain’s High Streets.

The figures mirror the downward trend in employment at the industry level shown by data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which tracked a decline in employment of 2.1 per cent in the fourth quarter and 2.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2018.

The majority of retail businesses that participated in the survey said they had reduced labour requirements compared to last year, with some exceptions bucking the trend by increasing stores and hours.

Store growth was steady at 2.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2019, the same rate of change as in the fourth quarter of 2018.

In total 17 per cent of retailers indicated plans to reduce their staff numbers in the coming quarter, above the comparable figure of 13 per cent last year, while 67 per cent will seek to keep their staff numbers unchanged (down from 75 per cent last year).

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “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," she continued. "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.” 

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