Retailers shed 176,718 jobs in 2020 after virus deepens high street woes


The turmoil on the high street saw 176,718 jobs lost across retailers during 2020, according to new figures showing the dramatic impact of the pandemic.

New data from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) has shown about 3,400 jobs within the retail sector vanished each week during the year.

Experts from the organisation have warned that even more jobs could go in 2021 as debt burdens, changes to legislation and continued online growth are set to weigh further on high street stores.

The CRR said the 176,718 jobs were lost across high streets, main shopping destinations, towns and villages, as well as small shopping parades and isolated stores across the UK.

Thousands of jobs have been lost at Debenhams
Thousands of jobs have been lost at Debenhams

It said that 71,811 jobs were lost through retailers falling into administration.

Major brands including Arcadia, Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group and Debenhams slashed hundreds of jobs after tumbling into administration during the year.

The data also showed that a further 11,986 jobs were lost through company voluntary arrangement (CVA) deals, a controversial insolvency procedure used to close loss-making stores and secure rent cuts.

River Island, Clarks and New Look are among retailers to launch CVAs in 2020 to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

A further 92,921 jobs were lost through “rationalisation” as part of cost-cutting programmes by large retailers or small shops simply shutting for good, up 18.3% on 2019, the CRR said.

The total number of overall retail jobs lost in 2020 was up by almost a quarter on the 143,128 overall jobs lost during 2019.

Professor Joshua Bamfield, a director at the Centre for Retail Research, warned up to 200,000 jobs could vanish in 2021.

“Our forecast is based upon a number of factors such as the cumulative effects of months of closure and its impact upon cash flow and rent arrears that will be payable when the moratorium ends,” he said.

“Whilst the longer-term effects of the greater use by shoppers of all kinds of online retailing is likely to be hugely damaging for physical stores.”

According to the real estate adviser Altus Group, 436,000 business premises in England are now closed under Tier 3 and 4 restrictions, including 310,504 non-essential shops, 37,581 pubs and 27,028 restaurants.

With the current business rates holiday set to end in March, Robert Hayton, head of property tax at Altus Group, said: “It is crucial that government ensures future support is targeted to where it is needed, including funding the Valuation Office so it can expedite settlement of the tens of thousands of formal challenges against business rates assessments that must now be reduced to reflect the impact of Covid before bills are sent out.”