Employment levels across the retail, wholesale and motor trades fell at a record pace in the year to February as the coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the economy.
The latest research showed that job losses in the distributive sector spiked last month, with employment levels falling at the steepest rate since records began more than 35 years ago.
The CBI’s distributive trades survey showed that employment had a balance of minus 49 per cent, compared to minus 38 per cent in November.
A similar fall in employment levels is expected next month.
Research also showed that retail sales volumes and orders both fell in the year to February, with the pace of decline easing slightly on the previous month.
Retailers reported record internet sales growth, with another bumper month expected in March.
Grocers were the only retailers to report growth in volumes in the year to February, with other sectors suffering sharp declines.
Retailers anticipated a steeper fall in sales and orders in March but sentiment for the coming quarter stabilised.
Most businesses expect to cut back on investment over the year ahead but the pace of decline eased for the third consecutive quarter.
“With lockdown measures still in place, trading conditions remain extremely difficult for retailers,” CBI principal economist Ben Jones said.
“Record growth in internet shopping suggests that retailers’ investments in on-line platforms and click-and-collect services maybe paying off, but the re-opening of the sector can’t come soon enough to protect jobs and breathe life back into the sector.
“Retailers will welcome the clarity on re-opening provided by the government’s road-map, which suggests a return to some semblance of normality is on the horizon.
” But with activity in town and city centres likely to take some time to fully recover many retailers are still facing a difficult few months. They will be looking to the government to extend support in parallel with wider restrictions when the Chancellor unveils his budget next week.”