New data from Retail Week’s Talking Shop report reveals exclusive insights from frontline staff that fear for the future of their jobs and question the role physical retail will play in years to come

Retail Week surveyed 530 store staff between March and April 2023 to explore their perspectives on working in retail today and their forecast for the shape of the stores of the future, with surprising results.    

Stores on the way out?  

The percentage of store staff believing stores soon won’t exist at all has dramatically doubled in the past three years, with 38% surveyed saying they don’t think stores will exist in five years’ time, compared with 18% when asked the same question in 2020.  

A level of pessimism isn’t surprising considering the widespread closure of retail spaces in recent years, including all of Paperchase’s 106 standalone stores and 28 concession stands, and M&Co’s entire estate of 170 shops this year alone.  

But the findings indicate that stores of the future will rely upon an experienced, passionate and driven workforce supported by technology 

The fears expressed by retail’s frontline staff serve as a stark reminder for leaders to prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing in the difficult market if they are to get the best out of their staff.  

The research also reveals store staff’s attitudes towards and expectations of digital transformation initiatives. 

Hope on the horizon  

Alongside an anticipated shift to more experience-focused and personalised in-store experiences, a staggering 96% expect technology to play an increasingly pivotal role in stores of the future. 

The most important area in which they feel tech could improve is by far stock availability and ordering; more than a third (35%) of those surveyed rank it as one of the most critical areas to focus on.  


Many retailers are already investing heavily in this field, including Tesco with its GetGo stores and Zara’s RFID-focused checkouts – initiatives designed to enhance inventory management while equally improving customer experience. 

Both retailers take different approaches to in-store CX: with GetGo stores offering frictionless checkout-free shopping and Zara self-checkouts requiring some effort from the customer to remove RFID tags.   

But both equally benefit from the efficiencies gained by integrating stock-management tech, giving a real-time view of inventory movement across their supply chains and store environment.  

Most store staff are excited about the digital changes the industry is going through, with 71% reporting that they embrace it 

Talking Shop reveals frontline staff welcome such advances provided that sufficient resource is allocated for staff training and support.  

Just 19% of respondents worry about the pace of digital change, citing concerns that tech could take over their roles or will inevitably not help them do their jobs better. Food for thought for leaders implementing digital transformation strategies to ensure store teams still feel valued as store experiences become more streamlined.

Talking Shop report

Want more insights into the opinions of those working on the frontline of UK retail? Access your free copy of Talking Shop: What 530 store staff really think of your strategy today.

In Retail Week’s unmissable report, you will also discover:   

  • UK store teams’ biggest barriers to embracing digital change  
  • Where you should invest in your teams and which areas of retail will be most improved with innovative tech   
  • How retailers such as Ikea, Holland & Barrett and Marks & Spencer are taking action to support store staff   
  • Store colleagues’ forecast for the shape of the stores of tomorrow