Supermarkets are cutting back on hours worked and equivalent full-time jobs in retail fell in the second quarter despite growth in store numbers.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) - Bond Dickinson Retail Employment Monitor revealed equivalent full-time jobs in the retail sector fell 2.5% year-on-year despite a 2.5% increase in the number of stores.

The store growth was driven entirely by the food sector. But the monitor said food retailers’ drive for more smaller convenience formats contributed to the fall in the average number of full-time staff per store, which dropped to its lowest level since the monitor began in 2009.

It added that the fall in the number of hours worked was driven by food retailers.

It comes amid a fierce price war in the grocery sector as the big four attempt to compete against discounters Aldi and Lidl.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “Retailing, in particular grocery retailing, is an extremely low margin business. In order to continue to deliver high quality goods at affordable prices, retailers are keeping an increasingly close eye on their costs – the largest of which are their property and their people.

“The increasing upward pressure of business rates in recent years has meant that retailers have had less and less control over the cost of their property. This in turn has seen retailers ensuring that their workforce is as productive as possible and deployed across their stores in the most efficient manner.”

Retailers have voiced their concerns over the high cost of business rates, which they see as a burden, restricting investment and job creation.

Retailers expect to increase staffing levels slightly in the next quarter. Some 21% aim to add to their workforce against 16% in the same period last year, while 4% intend to decrease staffing levels.

Bond Dickinson head of retail employment Christina Tolvas-Vincent said: “While the long term outlook for retail employment continues to be positive the landscape remains challenging.  Though food retailers have largely weathered the recession storm, they have faced tough trading conditions of late, which have contributed to the fall in the number of hours worked despite the opening of new stores.”

She added that pop-up shops will help bolster the sector in the next 12 months.