According to a statement released by the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC), over one-fifth of retailers in the UK (21%) say they are planning to reduce the number of staff working in stores over Christmas.

This is a somewhat surprising finding given that the Christmas period – the busiest time of the year for the vast majority of retailers – is usually associated with the taking on of additional employees. Indeed, the BRC poll carried out at the same time last year (2017) found that not a single employer was looking at cutting staff during the period.

These findings come on the back of news that total hours fell by around 2 per cent in Q3 of this year, with the number of hours the average employee worked down through the months of July, August and September. The BRC has suggested that this is something of a concern, as the trend is ‘in stark contrast to the whole UK economy’, with other industries and sectors reaching record lows in terms of unemployment.

Not all employees reducing staff

Of course, while the headline news is that a great number of employers are planning to slash staffing numbers, this is not the case for many retailers. Christmas is, after all, still the time of the year when many shops require extra hands to cope with additional consumer demand.

The BRC research discovered that just over one in three businesses (36 per cent) are planning to increase the number of staff on their books, although 43% say they expect to make no additional hires. Both of these figures have halved year on year.

It remains to be seen what the outcome of this new stance on seasonal hiring will be. However, it is quite clear that, should consumer demand exceed the levels that are currently anticipated, some stores will likely struggle.

The expert’s view

Speaking in the wake of the survey’s being published, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the BRC, said: “The retail industry, the country’s largest private sector employer, continues to be under considerable pressure.

“While pay is growing much faster than in other industries, employment in retail continues to fall. And there are challenging times ahead, with a fifth of retailers indicating plans to reduce staff ahead of retail’s busiest quarter, when normally they would be looking to increase headcount.”

When contemplating the wider reasons for this, she added: “As the Autumn budget looms, the retail industry is looking to the Government to help alleviate some of the pressure of a broken business rates system. An indication that reform is coming would provide welcome relief to the industry and to those who work within it.”