Approximately 2.9 million people work in the retail sector in the UK. This large, important economic sector has been facing a tough time in recent years. The industry has been adapting to an unprecedented level of change, with 17,000 high street shops closing in 2022, 50% higher than closures in 2021.
There has been a move to retailing online, a trend that gained pace during the pandemic. Overall, the job market in the retail industry has been contracting. Still, the sector is facing fast rising costs, particularly for utilities but also for wages, along with higher priced goods in general. Despite this, there are still many vacancies in this industry that have been hard to fill.
Retail sector recruitment trends and what can be done to address these are examined below.
Retail Sector Recruitment Trends
The UK has a very high employment rate, with unemployment only at 3.7% in December 2022. According to research by the British Retail Consortium, job vacancies within the retail sector are close to a high, at 148,000 in the three months prior to November 2022. This reflected an increase in vacancies of approximately 14,000 since before the pandemic. The labour market is ever decreasing in size, and wholesale and retail have the second largest number of vacancies of all sectors.
This makes the retailing sector tough to recruit, with increasing competition for fewer people to fill roles. The number of advertisements has been continually increasing, with one study showing retail and wholesale job vacancies 65% higher in May 2022 when compared with February 2020. This means that although the number of jobs has lowered, filling them is harder than ever, and there is increased competition among firms for employees. Getting people to work in retail roles is challenging even though the pay growth between 2021 and 2022 was double the UK average, at 5.5%.
Workers in this sector are typically young (aged 18 to 34). The problems of attracting talent are exacerbated within this group because the retail sector needs better press for career advancement. There is a general perception that those that work in retail are in low-paid, low-skilled roles. There needs to be more stability in job roles in this industry. This has led to a situation where 94% of retail leaders are concerned about the existing talent shortages. Brexit and the Great Resignation have also exacerbated talent shortages. A large number of EU citizens who worked in the retail sector left the UK for good in 2020.
Standing Out from the Competition
With competitive pressures in retail recruitment sky high, there is a need for companies in this sector to differentiate and showcase what they offer to stand a better chance of attracting talent. Benchmarking to see what other companies offer helps pinpoint ways in which it is possible to stand out from the competition.
Once hiring professionals conduct the benchmarking exercise, looking at, improving, and highlighting the employer brand and employee value proposition is likely to make a difference in achieving this. Making this visible and driving awareness of it to attract candidates is important. This can be achieved by improving the career site and all online presence about the company’s vacancies in this sector. It is recommendable to think about what makes working for this firm different/better than working for another retail company and why. Developing the employee value proposition helps the prospective employee understand “what’s in it for me?”
Given concerns about the lack of possible advancement, addressing this and demonstrating possibilities might be one area of focus for the career site and any social media profiles. Highlighting possible career paths is one possibility, including showcasing individuals’ career paths and presenting various options. Given that money alone does not appear to have attracted talent to this sector, it is likely to be worth focusing on the intangible benefits of working at the organisation and the tangible ones.
Businesses in this sector have the advantage of being able to use their retail talent to act as employee ambassadors to help recruit like-minded people. People like to work with people like them, so this is beneficial. Lean on the team to create content the audience is interested in, such as seeing a behind-the-scenes look at being a team member.
With this in mind, retaining existing staff may also be part of the battle. Focusing on employee skills advancement is important for attracting new people. Current employees will appreciate this too. Looking at skills gaps in performance reviews and finding ways to help fill these can be essential to round out individuals’ and team capabilities while keeping people engaged.
Being clear about what the organisation stands for will help attract the right people with the right mindset to move the company forwards. Often, the employer brand can become diluted or confused across the organization's marketing materials. One activity that can help is reviewing content and ensuring it is cohesive. The brand must present the same message on all platforms and in all marketing materials. Reviewing all existing materials and postings can be a useful exercise in bringing the company’s unique employee value proposition to life. Developing a cohesive strategy built on highly engaging advertising assets across various media is likely to be the best approach.
Attracting New Candidates
To help fill the sizeable number of vacancies in retail, the firm should consider different ideas for reaching candidates. Possibilities that the company may not already be using might include ‘refer-a-friend’ schemes with benefits for the employee that do this leading to successful recruitment. This can be very beneficial because it can enable the onboarding of people with a similar mindset and approach to those already proving to be successful in the job. Providing incentives for referring someone suitable who commits to the firm can be worthwhile in getting such schemes going.
Other interesting opportunities to consider might be partnering with local schools and colleges to attract students into a retail career. This could provide access to present the employer brand in a different light than this group may otherwise perceive it. It may open up possibilities of presenting in schools and building a rapport with students that drives interest in career opportunities in the sector.
At the other end of the spectrum, targeting older people who are looking for extra income right now might be another way to go. With everyone feeling the pinch of the cost of living crisis at the current time, there may be opportunities to secure employees from this group too.
Developing the Recruitment Advertising Strategy
If the old ways are not working, it may be time to try something new. Developing the recruitment advertising strategy may be needed to attract new and different candidates to the sector, given the high level of demand for employees seen in retail. One way to do this might be to use the employee ambassadors (mentioned above) to help develop videos and other content for the careers site. Videos and imagery can attract talent, since people want to be able to visualise themselves working at the organisation. Updated content developed by people who work in roles at the company can help with this.
There are various ways in which this could be adapted. For example, looking at new places to advertise for candidates may be helpful. It may be worth considering advertising on new social media websites, with TikTok presenting one possibility.
Advertising and hosting a virtual or in-person hiring event could be another great way to stand out to new target candidates, taking recruitment advertising one step ahead of the competition.
Also, posting in new and different places is important. When attracting new audiences, it is necessary to consider where those people may be looking for jobs. Look at new platforms to attract a broader talent pool. Think about where candidates might be and post there instead or as well as places they have previously worked.
The retail industry is facing a good deal of pressure at the current time, with the number of vacancies very high and excessive demand making filling these roles very hard. With this, recruitment within this industry will need to work to transform perspectives and attract different candidates to unfilled roles.
Looking in different places at different target audiences and adapting the recruitment advertising strategy are likely to be important activities to lower vacancy levels. Focusing on the employer brand and messaging targeted to specific groups and aiming to stand out from the crowd will be critical in turning this situation around.
If you’d like to learn more about the retail industry and how UK recruitment trends affect attracting, hiring, and retaining talent, reach out to Recruitics!