The number of full-time retail jobs has fallen as the sector is squeezed by mounting cost pressures and transformed by technology.

Full-time equivalent employment dropped 3.3% year-on-year for the three months to June 30, according to the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) retail employment monitor.

A reduction in the number of hours worked on both full-time and part-time contracts contributed to the fall, with 69% of respondents reporting a reduction in hours in this quarter compared to last year.

All three months of the quarter showed a decline and April’s decline was the steepest, albeit slower than the previous two months.

However, the rate of change has slowed from the 3.9% drop measured in the first quarter of 2017.

The late timing of Easter and the sales surge that came with it boosted retailers’ need for hours and partially stemmed the downward pressure.

Continuing decline

The BRC said it expects hours and employment to continue to fall as “the tide of change continues to sweep through the industry”.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Technology, which is both transforming the way we shop and providing increasing opportunities for automation in retail, combined with a difficult market environment and policies that have increased the cost of employing people, such as the national living wage and the apprenticeship levy, are driving the industry towards fewer but more productive jobs.”

Of the retailers surveyed, 15% claimed they are intending to decrease employment levels in the coming quarter, compared to none in the same period the year before.

According to Dickinson, predicted reductions are “particularly acute amongst non-food retailers”.

“With consumers seeing inflation squeezing their spending power, the challenges facing retailers will only increase in coming months, reinforcing the pressure on retailers to rethink and restructure their workforce,” she said. 

But, the picture is not the same for every retailer. While the majority of respondents reported a decrease in hours year-on-year, 31% increased the number of hours worked.

The downward trend in retail jobs as evidenced by the BRC is reflected in the latest ONS figures on UK retail jobs, which showed a 0.8% decline in March.