Nearly a million retail jobs will be destroyed by the march of tech, warns trade body

Switch from physical to digital, move to analytical

Structural upheaval driven by technological change will cost British retailers nearly one million jobs by 2025, according to a trade body.

There could be 900,000 fewer jobs in retail in nine years’ time as a result of accelerated store closures and shifting priorities in investment. That’s according to the British Retail Consortium, which reckoned retailers are shifting spending to online and digital – and away from physical stores.

Retail is the UK’s largest private employment sector, comprising three million workers. The BRC claimed there would be job losses as retailers turn increasingly to automation – especially in the supply chain and in logistics.

Job losses would also result from retailers switching investment to digital rather than building yet more physical stores that would have otherwise employed people.

The silver lining? A shift to more valuable jobs in analysis and a general move away from the traditional shop floor walkers, shelf stackers and back-office operators. The changing nature of employment will fuel demand for those skilled in creative, service and analytical roles. This will lead to the creation of 100,000 new retail jobs, the BRC claimed.

Technology, particularly the shift to digital, is both the cause and effect of the BRC’s predicted losses. The trade body reckoned there has been a drop in retail employment and in salaries in recent years that it said were down to three factors – two of those being technology related.

The RBC claimed the number of those employed in retail had fallen from a high point of 3.2 million in 2008 to three million by 2014. It also claimed 15 per cent of retail sales are online and that there are 40,000 fewer physical shops now than in 2006.

Falling head counts and salaries are down thanks to “greater transparency enabled by… digital transformation” and the impact of increasing investment in digital. The report, which cited data from consultancy outfit Deloitte, claimed 60 per cent of retail jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years.

On the plus side, the BRC reckoned falling technology costs, combined with the falling cost of labour, will stimulate greater productivity in the retail sector.

Retailers will look for improvements in their supply chains and logistics areas that the BRC says “won’t necessarily lead to job losses.”

The consortium also blamed job losses on government legislation, including the induction of the National Living Wage and an apprenticeship levy.

“Undoubtedly the impact of existing drivers such as technological change would have reduced the roles needed in the future. However, the combined effect of different labour-technology cost equation and physical space-digital investment equations will increase the rate of reduction in roles,” the BRC said. ®

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