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Retail recruitment 'lull' amid Christmas trade fears

Retailers are holding off recruiting new talent as a result of Christmas trade fears and Brexit uncertainty, headhunters have told Drapers.

“Right now, retailers are looking down the barrel of what is likely to be appalling Christmas trade, after a very poor 2019”, Mary Anderson-Ford, managing director of Aquaretail, said. “No major recruitment is taking place as a result.”

One headhunter described the recruiting climate as “dead”. She said: “[Retail recruitment] has been variable throughout this year, but not a lot has moved since August. The usual September uplift didn’t happen – for obvious reasons, with Brexit expected in October – but since that’s been postponed the lull remains because of Christmas trade fears.”

Karen Collier, managing director of fashion recruitment company Collier Careers, agreed that Brexit and the election are causing retailers to hold tight: “The election is only adding to the unrest as nobody knows the direction of the economy in general – so clients don’t want to do anything too courageous in case they get it wrong, but also candidates are tending to sit tight.”

Retailers are bracing themselves for a challenging Christmas trading period as consumer confidence this autumn slumped to a five-year low. The optimism of UK businesses reached its lowest level since 2012 last month, falling by 0.67 points to 95.59, consultancy BDO reported this week.

Headhunters told Drapers there has been a drop in recruitment across the whole retail sector, but particularly in manufacturing.

“Business is not booming at the minute”, a partner at one headhunter firm said. “Across the UK all positions are affected by the drop in recruitment, particularly in manufacturing. The country is candidate rich, but people are not taking risks right now.”

She added: “Christmas trade fears are certainly having an impact. Lots of chief executives I’m talking to are concerned about the level of discounting. It’s been happening over October, November, then Black Friday and Boxing Day. Everyone’s been focused on getting cash in, but they are worried their profit margins will be hit as a result.”

Shelley Pinto, managing director of TRP Recruitment, agreed: “We’re quite busy, but not as busy as we would like to be – we’re normally a lot busier at this time of year. The manufacturing side is certainly quieter. People are waiting to find out what’s happening with Christmas trade, Brexit and the general election.”

However, she added that there should be an uplift after Christmas: “I think there is a lot of trepidation and people are just staying where they are. Once there is some certainty, more people will start applying and recruiting again.”

Anderson-Ford said: “I’m confident that once the political turmoil settles with Brexit in January it will improve significantly.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • This should not be a surprise as retail is a dying format. If shops aren't busy, they are not going to recruit either for the short or long term.

    Retail is not a area which has wide appeal amongst youth, so as that continues, quality staff will be in increasingly short supply.

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