Two call centres servicing etailer Shop Direct are to close, resulting in the loss of 700 jobs.
Shop Direct asked Webhelp, which operates the centres in Bolton and Aintree, to undertake a review of the job roles because it anticipates lower call volumes over the next 10 years as more customers move to online shopping.
But Webhelp has concluded there is no business argument for retaining staff at the two sites.
It plans to relocate some roles to a new Shop Direct ‘centre of excellence’ in Cardiff, while others will be taken up by Webhelp’s site in South Africa.
The Bolton call centre will close in next March and Aintree in March 2017.
Webhelp UK chief executive David Turner said: “In the last few months we’ve worked closely with [trade union] Usdaw and our employee consultative forums to come up with a plan that would keep the contact centres in Bolton and Aintree operating at the same level as they are now.
“Unfortunately, we have been unable to agree a commercially viable way of doing that. However, we have been able to make some modifications to the original proposal and I would like to thank the union for their hard work to get us to this point.”
Turner added: “We are committed to doing everything we can to support colleagues during this difficult time. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to all my colleagues for their loyalty and professionalism over the past months as we have completed our review of the business.”
But Usdaw slammed the decision, arguing that Aintree and Bolton could “easily” have dealt with the move to online shopping at little or no extra cost, but the company has rejected all of its counter-proposals to save jobs. Wages in South Africa are much lower than in the UK, it pointed out; claiming this was the real reason for the move.
It will ballot its members at the two sites over whether they want to take industrial action to oppose the closures.
A spokesman for Shop Direct said: “Shop Direct is on a journey to transform into a world class online retailer. We’ve made a number of great strides in that direction this year with the removal of the catalogue and the consolidation of some of our legacy brands into our two power brands, Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com. But our progress does not end there.
”Our customers are increasingly embracing digital as their preferred method of communication and we need to be able to respond to that demand. Our major contact centre contract was recently transferred from Serco to Webhelp, who are specialists in digital communication channels.
”We set Webhelp the challenge of developing a customer service capability that would serve our customers’ needs over the next decade. They have responded to that challenge by reviewing the estate they inherited from Serco and recommending the proposals that have been outlined today.
”Change can be difficult but it is necessary and we are confident that the proposals outlined by Webhelp will ensure we can continue to develop the fantastic digital service our customers are telling us they expect from Shop Direct.”