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Women could be hardest hit by retail job losses, warns BRC

A “middle core” of nearly half a million mostly female shop workers aged between 26 and 45 are most at risk of losing their jobs as a result of store closures and the growth of online retailing, research by the British Retail Consortium has found.

These workers often require part-time hours in jobs to be close to home, according to the report, Retail 2020: What Our People Think, which was launched at the BRC Retail Symposium in London yesterday.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson told Drapers the middle core of around 465,000 workers aged between 26 and 45, 70% of whom are women, are the most vulnerable as the role of the retail worker changes: “This group are most likely to rely on tax credits to top up wages and may find it harder to find alternative employment,” she said.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the BRC and the John Lewis Partnership, underlined the need to be agile and adaptable in order to meet future requirements, but warned there will be winners and losers as changes start to take effect.

“Some retailers will be trying to do more with less, some will be looking to do some work on contracted hours where I think there will be a trend towards longer hours,” he said. “There will also be a greater emphasis on learning and I think we will see flatter structures with more responsibility pushed down.

“This could lead to greater opportunities which could be positive for some people but not for everyone, everywhere.

“For example we will have some people who want longer hours who may be in big demand but then someone who values the opportunity to fit retail around other things may struggle.”

Mayfield said the introduction of the national living wage this April, which is projected to cost retailers between £1.5bn and £3bn each year, has made it more urgent for companies to think strategically about the way they address talent in the industry.

He said around a third of people were classified as low-paid ten years ago and now this has risen to closer to 60% as a consequence of costs rising faster than sales.

“If you project that forward, we are looking at something like 80% of people in retail being on low pay. We may end up with a situation where retail has a going rate of pay and nearly everyone is on a minimum wage so you can ask why bother with appraisals because there is no real benefit.

“There becomes a dislocation between performance and reward but retail should be about merit.”

He reaffirmed that it is very likely that there are going to be fewer jobs but said the industry needs to work out as an industry how to make sure it means they are better jobs, with better rates of pay.

“Some of the interesting findings from our new report is that pay comes out sixth in what is important in a role, which offers opportunities as well as challenges.”

He addressed the need to improve productivity, because the changing industry demands and rising costs cannot mean just working harder.

“People work very hard already,” he said. “We have to find ways to bring the best people into contact with the best customers more often, using technology in the fullest way to enable that.”

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