Don’t speak too soon: why the BRC’s prediction of retail job losses may be premature

Earlier this month, a new report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that as many as 900, 000 retail jobs could be lost by the year 2025.

The reasons? The impact of digital and increasing costs according to the BRC. They argues that as consumers start to shop more and more online, the cost of labour increases and leases come up for renewal, stores will close and as a result, retail jobs will be lost.

The report makes for alarming reading but the reality, I think, is more complex than the picture the BRC paint. FreshMinds conducted a large-scale programme of research designed to explore what consumers want to see on the high street in 2025 and the vision that emerged suggests a more hopeful picture for the future for the high street as well as for the role of retail employees.

Firstly, despite the move towards online, the high street continues play an important role for consumers and is likely to do so in future. Our research told us that two thirds of people currently buy something on their high street and a third do so at least once a week. And when asked to consider the future, only 16% believe the high street won’t be needed in future, suggesting that the BRC’s predictions may be a little premature.

Secondly, when it comes to in-store retail staff, consumers aren’t prepared to bid farewell to customer service advisors just yet. One of the key themes that came out of our research was that one of the key reasons that consumers go to the high street is to seek advice and guidance in-store that you can’t get online. Here, in-store assistants play a crucial role and one that can’t be replicated by technology: nearly 2 in 3 consumers actually worry that without the high-street they will lose face-to-face contact with people. And as one of our respondents put it: “there will always be a need for some staff to be present in store.” So whilst the price of labour may be increasing, this should be perceived by retailers to be a worthwhile investment and one that draws consumers to the high street.

Technology is changing the way we shop and it is moving some consumers in particular categories online. And it’s changing the way we shop in-store too – that can’t be denied. But interestingly, we found that where consumers really value technology in-store is where it helps them to overcome pain points in the shopper journey.

The more these pain points are overcome, the more we might actually see an increase in traffic to bricks and mortar stores. And with it, a desire to see staff who can play a more active role advising and guiding shoppers. So I’d argue that it’s not time to say goodbye to retail jobs any time soon.