Chairs from across UK retail have warned of hiring freezes, staff reductions and store closures over the coming months amid the ongoing fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

A report from Korn Ferry, based on interviews conducted with 40 chairs of some of the biggest retailers in the UK, also revealed a bleak outlook for the state of the economy.

Seventy-four per cent of those surveyed said they had a pessimistic or very pessimistic outlook for the economy over the next year, impacting all elements of retail businesses.

Almost two-thirds (63%) said they were not anticipating hiring any more colleagues in the next six months, while nearly half (46%) of respondents said they expect to reduce staff numbers over the same time period.

UK retail chairs also predict a swathe of store closures with more than a third (35%) planning to reduce their portfolio.

Out of those, half are planning to close 10% or less of their stores, while 8% will close all stores and move to online only.

In the report, retail chairs expressed frustration with the changeable government policies amid the coronavirus pandemic. They desire swift action regarding the crisis, as well as clarity surrounding the impact of Brexit. 

Those surveyed also called on the government to tackle big issues such as VAT, rents and business rates head-on.

Korn Ferry managing director and head of Retail Board and CEO Services Sarah Lim said: “The pandemic has bifurcated the retail sector, with some retailers seeing exponential growth whilst others fight for survival.

“It isn’t all a tale of ‘gloom and doom’ but this is a time for bold moves and agility, to accelerate the pivot to ‘digital first’ and to ensure the government takes the right steps to preserve jobs and the future of retail.”