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Comment: It is time for retailers to be bold

Mary Anderson-Ford

Retailers must take control to survive a perpetually postponed Brexit, says Mary Anderson-Ford, managing director of merchandising recruitment specialist Aqua Retail. 

I’m sure you’re all as sick to the back teeth of this Brexit lark as I am. Regardless of how one voted in the referendum, I’m confident nobody wanted to see this total shambles. Our mighty nation is now an international embarrassment – we look like a Hugh Grant character, bumbling about and struggling to decide what to do or say.

But what impact is the postponement of cutting the EU umbilical cord having on the retail industry? Cataclysmic is the answer.

As a “seasoned” recruiter, I’ve seen no end of peaks and troughs over the years. I’ve observed recessions before they’re announced, because spending habits are a clear indicator of the health of the nation – and shoppers not spending has an instant knock-on effect on recruitment decisions.

Postponing Britain’s split from Europe until Halloween (so apt!) will probably and hopefully deliver a fillip to the high street, and our ailing stores. Everything has been on ice since the start of the year, pending the exact way in which we exit the EU. Scaremongering (or accurate forecasting – who knows?) about what a hard Brexit could do to the country, and a general sense of entering the unknown has meant a total state of stalemate. No retail boardroom is signing off on anything or anyone new, until the future is clearer. And who can blame them?

A delay until October will mean that at least there’s a little breathing space, and some movement can happen. So many redundancies being made in our industry have created a situation where we have a vast number of talented merchandisers at home, immediately available, itching to work (and, sadly, prepared to take significant drops in terms of level and salary), and – thanks to Brexit – without the usual number of vacancies to pick from.

In many businesses, recruitment is currently on a needs-must basis, and many merchandisers are effectively doing the job of two (or more) because of moratoriums on anyone new joining. Our people are frazzled. And, as such, everybody seems to be job-hunting.

Since the referendum, the Brexit topic has made shoppers cautious while they wonder what impact it will have on their own worlds. I could list all the businesses that have gone under since June 2016, but it’s just too depressing. How many of those casualties were inevitable and a result of the rise of ecommerce is another subject, but most retailers I speak to are agreed they are a result of Brexit (thanks, David Cameron – quite a legacy you left behind you).

This October plan should encourage shoppers to get out there and get the tills ringing, as will the sun coming out and the desire to purchase from spring 19 collections (in addition to the annual Pimms, halloumi and Weber barbecue sales spikes). But research shows we are still wary of making big-ticket purchases – again, we all serve as a barometer for the economic mood of the nation. It really is for us to shop our way out of any threatened recession.

The impact of the political turmoil is vast. But it is time for our retailers to be bold. Make those decisions. Sign on the dotted line. And if that means prioritising the clicks, and closure of some bricks, then so be it – as long as the sales are coming in. The longer businesses postpone investment, the greater the risk of denting the economy – and harming people’s jobs.

Any hint of recession and fear of unemployment stops spending in its tracks – a self-fulfilling prophecy. So the success or failure of our industry over the coming months truly does lie in our hands.


About Mary Anderson-Ford

Mary Anderson-Ford has worked in merchandising recruitment for nearly 15 years, and in that time has worked with leading retailers to build world-class teams, and helped industry stars carve out their dream career paths.

In addition to everyday recruitment, she also assists her clients in educating their teams on a variety of wellness topics including #RetailMeToo (working to stamp out sexual harassment in retail businesses) and speaking about sepsis awareness as part of her role as an ambassador for the UK Sepsis Trust.



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