· 2 min read · Features

Shopping for retail jobs: what hope is there of recruiting for the high street?


When an online retail company representing hundreds of quirky independent merchandisers launched back in 2006, they picked the name ‘not on the high street.com’.

It was a prescient choice. UK internet retail trade now accounts for 12% of total spending, the highest in Europe, and is set to continue. In the wake of the shop and click boom, traditional offline retailers and the people they employ had to adapt swiftly to survive.

Those with a legacy and a physical infrastructure on the high street have had to weigh up how, when and to what extent they shift the balance of their retail proposition online. From a skills perspective, there has been no readily available, experienced talent pool to draw upon as few people have the background required to operate in a multi-channel proposition. For example there is a distinct difference between in-store and online merchandising skills, with only a 40% to 50% crossover between the two. So one traditional role has sub-divided into at least two. High street retailers have had to embark on their journey of people transformation by learning on the job.

Most have reaped the rewards. For others the battle was quickly lost.

Oddbins, Habitat, La Senza and Woolworths (pictured) are all (quite literally) not on the high street anymore. Although overall employment in the retail sector rose by 0.5% in the final quarter of last year, a total of 42 retailers went into administration in the same quarter - a rise of 27% on the third quarter.

And, whilst the future of Peacocks in 2012 has recently been secured (thanks to a deal with the Edinburgh Woolen Mill) its reach has been severely curtailed with the loss of 224 stores leading to 3,100 redundancies with immediate effect.

For 2012's fresh cohort of unemployed retail professionals what does the future hold? Well, the market is tough but there is plenty of opportunity. After a slow start research from Randstad Retail shows that the number of opportunities is now extensive - particularly in the London market. Fashion continues to perform strongly and visual merchandisers in particular are in real demand. In January it was typically taking candidates six or seven first interviews before they secured a role but as we head into the year, this figure looks like it will drop to the more usual average of five interviews.

It's also a fallacy that having a failed brand on your CV will hold job seekers back from securing a new position. Whether candidates have been the store manager, buyer or visual merchandiser at a brand in administration, it will not affect their standing with prospective employers as most see store failure as a combination of lagging behind the pace of change, a difficult economy and rising rates.

The ongoing sluggish market and business red tape are themes that dominate the debate over how well retail can continue to perform. But perform it must. Retail is vitally important for Britain's young workers.

Retail employment accounts for 10.5% of all UK jobs, rising to 40% for all under 20s in employment. Essentially, retail is a major force for tackling youth unemployment and future prospects - especially since the sector spends more per head on training than either the finance sector or manufacturing. As such, we wholeheartedly back the British Retail Consortium's recent call to the Government to control fuel duty and business rate rises in 2012 to make it easier and more affordable for retailers to create jobs.

Peter Shrimpton is MD of Randstad Retail