Retail employment falls for 13th consecutive quarter

Stacking shelves

The latest British Retail Council Employment Quarterly Report reveals that total retail employment has fallen for 13th consecutive quarter.

The report says that “structural change in the retail industry triggered by the advent of online sales and other technologies” have led to total employment falling by 2.4% in Q1 2019.

The numbers are undoubtedly at least partially a consequence of constantly rising wage costs and the steady decline in employment in the retail sector. This is in stark contrast to the UK economy as a whole which sees employment at the highest levels since ONS records began (76.1%) and unemployment at its lowest rate since 1975 (3.9%).

Year-on-year retail employment fell by 2.4% in Q1 2019, with full-time employment falling faster than part-time employment, at 4.3% and 1.4%, respectively. This echoes Q4 2018, when full-time employment saw a reduction of 3.9%, compared to a 1.3% decrease in part-time employment.

Total hours worked also fell – by 2.7% – in Q1 2019 compared to a year ago, a figure broadly in line with the 2.8% decline of Q4 2018. Full-time hours declined by 1.1% and part-time hours by 4.1%. These figures, coupled with the pattern of changes in full and part-time employment, give what the report terms “a more nuanced picture of the retail workforce restructuring”.

Usually, a higher reduction in full-time staff would mean that the retailer seeks more flexibility by allocating more hours to part-time staff during peak hours when demand surges. However, in Q1 2019, part-time hours fell at a faster pace than full-time hours, confirming that there is a permanent shift in retail to lower employment and labour hours used.