108,000 retail jobs lost to automation and ecommerce since 2011


Automation and ecommerce have cost the UK retail sector over 100,000 jobs since 2011, with further job losses expected.

108,000 sales and customers service jobs have been lost in the UK between 2011 and 2018, according to analysis of government data by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

The RSA’s report found high levels of precarity for retail workers, with women bearing the brunt of the sector’s shift to automation.

READ MORE: Women to be hit hardest by automation

Of the 108,000 retail jobs lost over the period, 75,000 of them were women.

Over the same time period 40,000 “process, plant and machine operator” jobs were created, 31,000 of which were taken by men, showing that the new warehouse and distribution jobs being created by ecommerce retailers are being taken by men, and not replacing customer service roles largely held by women.

There is also huge disparity geographically, with total retail jobs in the North East and East Midlands both dropping 11 per cent, while roles in London jumped 16 per cent in the same period.

Employment in retail


Net change


Percentage change (2011-18)
East Midlands 184,590 -22,553 -11%
North East 105,460 -12,671 -11%
East of England 242,531 -27,228 -10%
Yorkshire and Humberside 237,976 -23,457 -9%
South West 228,930 -20,640 -8%
Scotland 250,962 -22,226 -8%
South East 401,277 -7,039 -2%
West Midlands 253,900 7,814 3%
Wales 139,420 6,783 5%
North West 337,577 21,703 7%
London 354,693 47,651 16%

(Changes in retail jobs by region – RSA analysis of Labour Force Survey)

“Our research shows that the economic pain that comes with the decline of the high street is not being felt evenly,” RSA’s future work centre researcher Fabian Wallace-Stephens said.

“As ever more people are shopping online, and businesses are introducing automated technology like self-service checkouts, this is changing the types of jobs available. Women are being hit particularly hard, with jobs growth being contained to roles usually filled by men such as delivery drivers.

“That said, we are optimistic that the high street’s decline can be reversed. If retailers collaborate more with each other, offer exciting in-store experiences and make customer service roles higher skilled – with staff becoming more like in-store ‘influencers’ – then we still see a vibrant future for the British High street.”

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