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Digital revolution blamed for 62,000 drop in retail jobs

Retail’s digital revolution and the collapse of BHS have been blamed for a fall in the number of people employed by the retail sector.

Employment in the sector fell by 62,000 last year, with the headcount in stores and outlets down 2.2%, according to research by the Office for National Statistics. This drop comes despite a recent employment boom, and in a year when most other sectors saw their headcounts increase significantly.

The collapse of BHS, which resulted in 11,000 job losses was partly to blame, as was the rise of technology. Chief executive of Retail Economics, Richard Lim, highlighted an increasing focus on digital and online operations as partly to blame for the fall.

He said: “High street retailers’ real growth area is online, so they are looking at whether they need so many stores and in many cases they are cutting back. Retailers are also having to adapt to consumers’ growing expectations of convenience, which has meant they have had to switch investment from stores to their online operations to cope with changing shopping habits.”

“A lot of retailers have stripped out so much from their operating cost base - with rises like the National Living Wage and the pinch in labour costs, they have to rationalise, cutting back on the number of staff and introducing new technology. As the cost of operating a retail business continues to rise, they will look at implementing other technological innovations to strip back costs even further.”

Rachel Lund, head of retail insights and analytics at British Retail Consortium added: “As our analysis predicted, jobs in retail are falling as the tide of change sweeps through the retail industry. A transformation in the way we shop as more is done online, the availability of technologies to replace jobs now done by humans and policy pressures from the National Living Wage and apprenticeship Levy are all pushing the industry towards falling employment. The BRC Is working with retailers and the government to ensure that, while there will be fewer jobs, they will better and more productive.”

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