Why does no one want to work in retail?

It's not a case of demand, but the fact there are no jobs.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 21 Mar 2018

We’re a fan of lists at MT, so when we saw that LinkedIn has released the 2018 edition of its Top Companies: Where the UK wants to work list, we couldn’t help but have a look.

E-commerce clothing giant ASOS tops the list, followed unsurprisingly by a raft of of tech giants. Yes, Facebook, Amazon and Apple all made the list. Financial services also continue to appeal, with HSBC, Lloyds and Deloitte making an appearance.

One industry group that appears to be missing - especially when compared to last year's list - is the high street retailer. In 2017, The Arcadia Group (owners of Topshop, Topman, Burton and Dorothy Perkins) took third place and was joined by Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Burberry, but this year none of them made the cut.

OK, so before we go on let’s just take a step back here and provide a bit of context.

LinkedIn’s list only contains the Top 25 companies based on their data. The list is worked out using data gathered from the actions of the networking site’s 546 million members.

The data is based around four so-called ‘pillars’: interest in the company, engagement with the company's employees, job demand and employee retention.

Because of this, it doesn't necessarily follow that the sector is struggling to recruit. But nonetheless, the lack of UK retailers on the 2018 list is telling.

Where are the jobs going?

Employment in the sector is falling: according to the Office of National Statistics, employment fell by around 2% during 2017.

One of the major reasons has been a shift in consumer trends. The time-poor 21st century customer is a fickle one. We want everything instantly and at the touch of a button.

Self-service checkouts are on the rise - with 82% of shoppers now using them frequently -  while the internet now accounts for 16.5% of all UK retail sector spending according to the ONS, which possibly explains ASOS’s podium place on the 2018 list.

The e-tailer saw sales grow by 30% during the last quarter of 2017 and its active customer count reached 16 million. Overall headcount increased by 30% over the year and bosses still want to recruit a further 1,000 staff.

Internet average weekly retail sales (excluding fuel). Source: ONS

In contrast, these changing market conditions, coupled with well-documented challenges over the past couple of years means many high street stores are curbing their recruitment in a bid to cut costs.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco have announced plans to reduce management positions in cost cutting restructuring bids - although Sainsbury's will offer these employees the opportunity to move to other positions within the company.

Philip Green's Arcadia Group has followed a similar pattern, announcing in January 2018 plans to cut hundreds of manager positions in both Topman and Topshop in a restructure that would see a single manager oversee both chains which are often housed in the same store. It was rumoured that Green was looking to sell the group as it looks to recover from a series of controversies involving tax-avoidance and pensions deficits (something he vehemently denies).

Should we be worried?

Though we shouldn't get carried away - with an estimated 2.9 million workers, the sector remains one of the UK’s largest employers - bricks and mortar retail is facing an uneasy future, as seen by the recent wave of store closures including Toys "R" US, Maplin and BHS.

But looking on the bright side, changes in the market means retailers are diversifying their operations and that no doubt leads to new opportunities.

Afterall, who else is going to fix the self-service machine when it breaks? The retail industry is changing, but there will always be a place for good old fashioned customer service.

Here is the full LinkedIn Top Companies 2018: Where the UK Wants to Work Now list

  1. ASOS

  2. BBC

  3. McKinsey & Company

  4. Richemont

  5. Kering

  6. JP Morgan Chase

  7. Amazon

  8. EY

  9. HSBC

  10. Boston Consulting Group

  11. Selfridges Group

  12. Apple

  13. Barclays

  14. L’Oréal

  15. Vodafone

  16. Goldman Sachs

  17. Facebook

  18. Lloyds Banking group

  19. Accenture

  20. Salesforce

  21. Sky

  22. Alphabet

  23. Virgin

  24. Volkswagen

  25. Dell Technologies


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