London’s retail sector set for big changes in post-Brexit Britain, DWF finds

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Retailers are worried about the future supply of their workforce in the UK, according to new research which finds that almost two thirds (61%) think it will be more difficult to recruit the best talent following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The survey of ‘C-suite’ executives, by leading business law firm DWF, also finds that as the UK begins its Brexit negotiations, retailers’ confidence in their sector has already started to erode:

  • 83% of respondents think it will be more difficult to access capital post-Brexit, regardless of the detail of the outcome
  • 44% are not confident that London’s economic interests will be protected over the next three years
  • 50% say they intend to invest less should the UK lose access to the single market

Fearing a more competitive landscape for retail, respondents named New York as the greatest threat to London in terms of employment, loss of customers or erosion of profit. Hong Kong and Singapore were also recognised as posing a significant threat to London.

Commenting on the survey, Hilary Ross, executive partner (London) – head of retail, food & hospitality of DWF, said: “These findings show that confidence is failing in the retail sector, which is already struggling with the tough economic conditions. It’s essential that retailers don’t sit back and wait for the Government to act. Retailers need to understand how Brexit will affect them, have an open dialogue with the Government and explain what the solutions are to help create opportunities.”

Fears around further volatility seem to be spurring the sector into action, however, with retailers already attempting to secure their talent pipeline for a future outside the EU. According to the study, 61% believe flexibility is the primary driver for attracting talent to the sector. Retailers are therefore embracing the gig economy, as a third (33%) plan to transition more than 10% of their workforce to freelancer status and a further 50% plan on blending their workforce with greater levels of freelance support in the future.

These changes have the potential to reshape the sector significantly with retailers suggesting that half of their workforce could be working on an agile basis within the next five years and comes at a time when the ‘gig economy’ is being carefully scrutinised reviewed by the Government.

Ross added: “Our survey shows that the retail sector is gearing up for a major change in the way it operates and we anticipate an increase in the role that the gig economy will play in the future. It is important that the recently announced review into self-employed worker status provides clear guidance for everyone in the sector.”

Accountability was another key theme with all of those surveyed planning to change their approach to recruiting and retaining senior management in order to improve ‘Customer outcomes and experiences’ and ‘Decision-making’ (management information and board delegation).

Technology is also seen as integral to the future of retail in post-Brexit Britain, with Big Data (89%) and the Internet of Things (83%) predicted as being the most important technological advances to the sector in the next three years. Surprisingly, Virtual/Augmented reality (11%) and Blockchain (11%) were both seen as the least important technical trends to the retail sector – up to 23% and 21% respectively for other non-retail sectors.

Ross concluded: “As the UK Government enters its talks with Brussels, it must do all it can to boost the sectors confidence, by ensuring a favourable environment for integrating these new modes of employment and technology.”