Retail jobs crunch: Workers feel the pinch as costs force retailers to cut thousands of jobs

Helen Cahill
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Amazon Warehouse Employees Prepare For Their Busiest Time Of Year
Technology is changing the retail sector's workforce (Source: Getty)

Workers in retail are facing the sharp end of rising costs and technological changes as jobs cuts continue apace in the sector.

The number of jobs in the retail sector fell by three per cent in the three months to September, according to figures out today from the British Retail Consortium (BRC). The number of full-time jobs fell faster than part-time jobs, the industry body said.

Read more: Tesco is cutting another 1,200 jobs, this time at its head office

Half of the retailers surveyed said they intended to increase staff levels over the Christmas period. However, Rachel Lund, head of retail insights and analytics at the BRC said there was "a lot more to come" as the retail indsutry changes how it works.

Retail's employment base has been shrinking in part due to cost increases from the devaluation of sterling and the national living wage, but the industry has also been navigating new technologies, which have reduced the number of shop-floor staff businesses require.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said the pace of job reductions in the sector was "gathering steam".

"However, along with falling employment has come pay growth well in excess of the UK average, made possible by productivity gains that have outstripped those of other industries," she said.

Read more: Sainsbury's to cut 2,000 jobs as it seeks £500m in cost savings

"The challenge for retailers will be in maintaining the pace of productivity improvement as they come up against shortages of the skills needed for a new, digital-dependent industry."

Some of the UK's biggest retailers have been announcing substantial job cuts this year as cost rises start to bite. In June, Tesco said it was axing 1,200 jobs in its head office, just days after it said it was cutting 1,100 jobs in Cardiff with the closure of its call centre.

Sainsbury's became the most recent supermarket to say it was letting staff go when it said it was cutting 2,000 jobs as part of its aim to save £500m over the next three years. The grocer said the market was changing rapidly, and that it had to act to make sure it could remain competitive.

Asda, meanwhile, has put over 3,000 workers into consultation in its underperforming stores, saying new till technology and other changes to how the business operates mean it will need fewer staff on the shop floor.

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