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Retail employment figures may be muted but people still top the agenda

Despite unemployment being at a six-year low, the retail sector, and particularly the grocery sector, is facing some serious challenges from continued pressure on household budgets, food inflation and the change in consumer shopping habits. By Gavin Matthews, head of retail at Bond Dickinson.


Retail employment figures may be muted but people still top the agenda

This has resulted in a year-on-year drop in the number of full time employees and a fifth consecutive fall in the number of hours worked.

The latest results from the BRC-Bond Dickinson Retail Employment Monitor reveal a fall of -1.3% in full-time equivalent jobs in Q3 this year compared with the same period last year. This is once again primarily driven by food retailers reacting to the significant structural changes that are on-going across the industry. Notably, in September the reduction in the number of hours worked fell at the fastest rate since the inception of the monitor in October 2008. 

Consumers’ emerging preference for top-up shopping in more convenient locations, increasing competition from discounters and disruptive digital technology is rapidly changing the retail landscape.  An informed and ever-connected consumer can now shop at any time of the day or night and this transformation is happening so quickly that retailers are in many cases struggling to adapt to the pace of change while their operating costs continue to rise.  This means they need to maximise the productivity of their existing workforce and be smart about how they deploy them.

Of course, retailers have always had to be nimble in order to cope with economic and market developments, and particularly over the Christmas period when increased seasonal demand requires an influx of temporary workers in the industry, and occasions where employees are required to work longer hours than normal.

Though the survey revealed muted hiring intentions for Q4, as we approach the Christmas period there is little doubt that retailers will be focusing more than any other industry on ensuring they have the right people in the right numbers in the right stores at the right times of day.

But retail employment is more than just a numbers game. In such a competitive market environment, ensuring staff are motivated enough to provide outstanding customer service is a key tool. A lot of the retailers we work with on employment law issues are not just reacting to changing legislation but are proactively trying to stay ahead of it by introducing benefits and working practices that make their people feel valued and motivated.

In the new world of retail every tiny competitive edge counts, and HR teams increasingly realise that the recruitment and retention of a well-motivated workforce translates into better customer service which in turn translates to better performance.

Retailers may be lagging behind the UK labour market in terms of positive employment figures, but you can bet your bottom dollar no sector will be focusing more heavily on its people in the coming months. 

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