‘The rate of change within retail is quickening as the digital revolution reshapes the industry’

The UK retail industry is world leading. We can buy any product any time we want in any way we want. But the industry is undergoing a transformation more profound and far-reaching than any that has gone before


Social, financial and technological pressures are creating a revolution that is inspiring retailers to transform what they do. Physical retailing is changing and the role of the store is being reimagined, while customers’ behaviour and expectations of retail experiences are evolving as quickly as the technology itself.

Some 100,000 people are employed in retail jobs that did not exist five years ago and about 15 per cent of sales are online, growing at 10 to 15 per cent a year. This means retail is becoming more productive, powered by better jobs. Where once retail jobs were stigmatised as just shelf-stacking, the industry is now a leader in offering opportunities in roles as diverse as app development, microbiology and events planning.

But the challenges are stark. The rate of change within retail is quickening as the digital revolution reshapes the industry.

The effect of these changes is compounded by a perfect storm of cost pressures. With a weak pound, input costs are rising fast and retailers are managing the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, and further uplifts in the national living wage and business rates, all at a time of increasing competition, four years of lower prices for customers and within an industry with very small profit margins. Brexit will, of course, bring further change.

What many shops do may change in the coming years. For many retailers, the future role of shops may be partly showrooming, partly collection points, partly a space to hold events and provide experiences and services that you can’t get from an online competitor. In the age of the individual, today’s discerning shopper wants a targeted, personalised retail experience that matches their buying habits.

That changing customer experience means retail jobs are changing too and the “people agenda” has never been so important. It will be a technological revolution, but one that is driven by retail’s people. Retailers need to keep finding new routes to engaging their people in ensuring their business is as productive and high performing as it can be.

We know from our research that a majority of employees feel they are overqualified for their jobs and, while many have ideas for improving their business, few feel their ideas are taken seriously. And many feel a lack of support or encouragement to go for promotion, for example. This all needs to change.

Customers will get better choice, more convenience and more personalisation in the coming years, while retail will see greater productivity and better, more rewarding jobs.

Our industry has a strong track record in training its people, and giving them the right skills and experience to succeed. It is making headway in understanding what to change now and how to make this happen.

Achieving this vision requires companies to respond individually, collaborate and partner effectively with government on people, pay, progression and productivity. As retail adapts, it will be incumbent upon the British Retail Consortium, with industry, to work with the government towards making the right choices of where and what to invest in.