Total retail employment fell by -2.4% YoY in Q1 2019, a higher reduction than the -2.2% seen in Q4 2018, reports the BRC.

The figures are a result of structural changes in the retail industry triggered by the advent of online sales and other technologies, reports the consortium, which points out that these findings mirror the downward trend in employment at an industry level shown by ONS data.

Most recent ONS figures show a decline in employment of -2.1% in Q4 2018 and -2.9% in Q3 2018. However, this is in stark contrast with the UK economy as a whole, which sees employment at the highest levels since ONS records began.

In Q1 2019, total hours were down -2.7% YoY, similar to the reduction of -2.8% of Q4 2018. The majority of survey participants reduced labour requirements compared to last year, with some increasing stores and also hours and employment.

Store growth was steady at +2.3% in Q1 2019 – the same rate of change as Q4 2018. Positive store growth found in the sample is in contrast to the ONS figures which show that the number of local units is in decline in the UK. This is due to the expansion of smaller-format stores by several retailers in the BRC's sample.

Over a sixth (17%) of retailers indicated plans to reduce staff in the coming quarter, above the comparable figure of 13% last year, and 67% seek to keep their staff numbers unchanged (down from 75% last year).

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE says: “Yet again, the number of retail jobs fell during the first quarter of this year, with a -2.4% YoY fall in employees – this would be equivalent to losing 74,400 people across the retail industry. While the number of stores rose, this was mainly driven by an increase in small-format stores, with many larger stores closing - resulting in a net job loss. And more jobs are likely to disappear unless there is a shift in Government policies. 

“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. 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.”