Last updated: November 17, 2020

Retail job losses have accelerated in 2020 as the coronavirus crisis batters the sector. 

Thousands of roles have been axed since the turn of the year as major retailers including Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, Dixons Carphone and Boots seek to restructure their operations.  

Almost 150,000 jobs were lost across the sector last year but that looks set to increase in 2020 as retailers come to terms with the impact of the pandemic.

Sainsbury’s and John Lewis became the latest major retailers to cut jobs when they revealed plans to axe 5,000 roles between them.

Sainsbury’s said 3,500 roles will be made redundant as part of plans to shutter 420 standalone Argos stores and close its in-store meat, fish and deli counters over the next three years.

The news came less than 24 hours after John Lewis kicked off a consultation that will see 1,500 roles stripped out of its head office in a bid to create more “flexible” central teams.

But those numbers were drawfed by the deepest cuts of the year to-date, which came from M&S in mid-August. The high street bellwether lifted the lid on plans to make 7,000 staff redundant. By the time those jobs are lost by the end of November, M&S will have stripped out some 8,600 roles from across its business this year alone. 

Boss Steve Rowe said the restructure, which would impact stores, regional management and head office teams, were “an important step in becoming a leaner, faster business set up to serve changing customer needs” off the back of the pandemic. 

Those changing needs and habits created new roles across the sector during the height of the pandemic as a number of businesses, particularly those in the grocery sector, drafted in temporary staff to cope with spikes in demand. 

Tesco took on 20,000 temporary workers in March as shoppers rushed to stock up on products such as toilet paper, rice and pasta.

Big-four rival Morrisons also launched a major recruitment drive, bringing in an additional 25,000 staff across its stores, manufacturing sites, supply chain and online divisions. 

Aldi created 5,000 temporary jobs and 4,000 permanent roles to help it meet demand and press ahead with expansion, while discount rival Lidl drafted in 2,500 temporary workers and also plans to create up to 1,000 new jobs by Christmas to help fuel its store opening plans.

Convenience specialist the Co-op was also among the food retailers to go on a hiring spree, recruiting 5,000 temporary staff to help serve shoppers in stores. 

But those hires, many of which were not converted into permanent positions, have not offset the rapid decline in jobs across retail more broadly. 

Thousands of jobs were lost even after Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston and Oasis Warehouse were rescued in pre-pack administration deals. 

Dixons Carphone axed 2,900 staff after closing its estate of standalone Carphone Warehouse stores and Boots is axing 4,000 workers across its head office and opticians business.

Almost 3,000 jobs have gone at Debenhams this year and department store rival John Lewis said in June that it would cull 1,300 positions as retailers rush to restructure their operations. 

Nelson Blackley, retail research associate at Nottingham Business School, said the government has left it too late to stem the tide of job losses in retail but has urged ministers to do more to support those left out of work.

“I am not sure there is much now that the government can actually do to prevent whatever further retail job losses might take place as the sector continues to restructure and so reflect current and future demand,” Blackley said.

“What it can and must do, however, is support all those from the retail industry who have already lost their jobs by providing them with training or retraining and the skills and qualifications likely to be required in the future.”