The UK retail sector is set to lose another half a million jobs over the next five years to artificial intelligence and automation, according to a new survey.

AI-powered robots could take one out of every five jobs in UK retail by 2024, according to the 2019 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey. This comes after the Office for National Statistic (ONS) estimated that two-thirds, or 135,000 cashier jobs, in the UK retail sector were at high risk of being automated.

The survey, which is drawn from responses from 3,600 organisations, also found that a push towards automation is being driven from the top, with 44% of respondents reporting that “using automation to improve efficiencies is one of the big issues that their board is looking to address”.

The shift to automation is already under way in UK retail, found the report, with a quarter of respondents already piloting or implementing robotics or artificial intelligence in some capacity.

The survey found that 67% of respondents believe there to be a skills shortage when it comes to automation and robotics that is “preventing their business from keeping up with the pace of change”.

In terms of the reasons for spending money on automation, 80% of chief executive respondents in the survey said they were investing because they wanted technology to make their business money, not just reduce costs.

Boss of tech recruiter Harvey Nash, Albert Ellis, said the combined effect of the loss of traditional jobs and growth in new areas requiring increasingly digital skills would see a fundamental reorganisation of retail roles.

“The rapid deployment of new technology in the sector has allowed retailers to replace skills which are in short supply with automated solutions. But, at the same time, technology has created new roles in areas such as big data/analytics – and retailers are now reporting that they aren’t able to find enough data scientists to fill these vitally important roles.”

Retail jobs wipeout – can new roles replace those lost?