The chief executive of the department store, Next, Lord Wolfson has issued a warning to the traditional retail sector that employment has ‘become unviable’ in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that has accelerated a change in the way consumers shop. The retail boss has expressed concern that thousands of traditional retail jobs are likely to be under threat following the increased shift to online shopping over 2020.
In an interview with the BBC and reported by the Retail Gazette, Wolfson, said: “I wouldn’t want to underestimate the difficulty that it is going to cause a lot of people who work in retail. I think it is going to be very uncomfortable for a lot of people.”
Wolfson said that his own company ‘will inevitably, and has done already, reduce the number of people working in its shops’ and that he expects that to continue ‘over the coming five or six years as the demand for retail goes down.’
He added: “But we are taking on people in our call centres; we are training new recruits in our call centres, in our warehousing. Our distribution networks are taking on new employees. So there are new jobs and, in terms of finding where those opportunities are, the internet provides an amazing and powerful tool to connect employers with employees.”
Wolfson made the comments following yesterday’s announcement from Chancellor Rishi Sunak that a new Jobs Support Scheme aimed at ‘protecting “viable” roles will be put in place as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the UK. The new initiative will replace the furlough scheme – or the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme – which comes to an end in October.
The Jobs Support Scheme will see the UK Government top up wages of people working at least a third of their normal hours due to the pandemic. It will introduce a reduction on the money it has so far been spending under the furlough scheme.
Wolfson has stated that only around 10 per cent of Next’s staff remained on furlough and said “we don’t think we need” the new scheme.