Tesco staff worker employee

The number of full-time jobs in retail underwent the sharpest fall in two years in the second quarter of the year, with cutthroat competition in the supermarket sector driving the slump, according to new figures from the BRC.

The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees fell 2.4%, with the number of retail outlets down by 0.4% over the same period compared with last year.

The corporation said the number of hours worked in the food sector was at its lowest level since the third quarter of 2014 and it warned that the uncertainty caused by Brexit and costs such as the national living wage (NLW) and the Apprenticeship Levy threatened to make things worse.

The retail labour market has been weakening since the final quarter of 2015, reporting its seventh consecutive decline on a three-month rolling basis in June.

The BRC said the “challenging trading environment” of its sample, covering just over a third of employment in the retail industry, showed retailers were implementing changes to their business as fierce competition between the food retailers continued to impact heavily on the sector, while non-food reported a rise.

Non-food retailers fared better, reporting a marginal rise in the number of FTE employees in the second quarter of 2016.

The report said the national living wage and the Apprenticeship Levy and the recent vote to leave the EU meant retailers faced major further challenges ahead.

While the results include the period of the introduction of the NLW, it said it was “too early to draw conclusions on its impact on the retail jobs market”.

“Challenging economic conditions, fierce competition between retailers, customers’ ever-changing shopping preferences, the lightning expansion of digital technology and external demands placed on retailers by government have all put pressure on the UK’s retail businesses,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

“The figures continue to show the dramatic structural changes that are under way in the retail industry.”