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News - 28 April 2011
Stephen Robertson, CEO, BRC

Employment in the retail sector

Employment in the retail sector is slowing but it is still a critical sector for providing jobs particularly for school leavers and young people. A recent survey shows that there is reason for concern even though the figures are up in general.

In the first quarter of 2011, there were the equivalent of 3,400 more full-time jobs in UK retail than the same quarter a year earlier, an increase of 0.5%. During the same period the number of outlets grew by 5.3%, an additional 837 shops.

Comparing just March with the same month in 2010, the equivalent number of full-time employees fell by 0.8% reflecting slowing consumer demand but also the seasonal impact of Easter not falling in the same month this year as last. The number of outlets grew by 5.1% compared with the same month in 2010.              

The BRC-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor (REM) shows 63% of the sample indicated that they would keep staffing levels unchanged in the next three months. 

Some 29% of retailers in the sample said they would decrease staffing levels, compared with 8% this time last year. The results indicate a continued weakening in sentiment. There is an on-going divergence between the employment prospects of different retail sectors. It is not surprising that food retailers appear to be more confident about investing and employing more staff given that this sector has suffered less from falling consumer confidence than the luxury goods end of the market.

Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said, “These figures confirm how tough the trading environment is. Retail is still creating more jobs than other sectors but numbers for the quarter rose at their slowest rate since this survey began at the end of 2009.

“Comparing just March with March a year ago, retail employment actually fell. That can partly be attributed to the fact Easter is in April this year, but the difficult retail climate is the key factor and will be for some time to come. Consumer demand is weak and retailers, looking ahead and trying to keep their operating costs down, are less optimistic about future employment.

“Even so, the retail sector generally continues to expand. Retail is the largest private sector employer and, with over a third of its workforce aged under 25, any growth provides important opportunities for the young unemployed who are particularly struggling to find work. A lighter regulatory regime and reduction in financial burdens for retailers remain essential to helping retailers create much-needed jobs.”

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, Head of Retail Employment at business law firm Bond Pearce, said, “Consumer incomes are still being squeezed by inflation and the retail sector is suffering from a lack of consumer confidence - this quarter’s figures contain no surprises in that respect.  However, we remain in positive territory with jobs still being created – albeit on a smaller scale.  

"Ongoing expansion into the convenience store sector appears to be fuelling a growing trend of confidence among food retailers, with intentions to increase staffing levels higher here than among non-food businesses," she added.  "The more encouraging sales figures in relation to food and non-store sales out just recently have yet to be reflected in employment expectations, but there are positive indicators that retail growth prospects will continue to help the overall employment market.”  

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British Retail Consortium
Robertson, Stephen

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