Toughing out the retail slump

Despite boosts in certain private sector jobs like marketing and IT, the rest of the UK jobs market has not had a healthy year. The Office for National Statistics published its annual Retail Sales figures last month, calculated for the 2010-2011 tax year – which confirmed that the UK high street suffered as consumers, faced with rising fuel prices and the slow economic recovery, cut back on food and clothes in particular.

This doesn’t look set to change as we enter the second quarter of the 2011-2012 financial year. The BBC reported a 1.4% drop in sales on the UK high street in May 2011 alone, with chains like Thorntons, CarpetRight and Jane Norman closing stores and limiting budgets. This trend looks set to continue as internet sales take business from high street shops – nearly 10% of retail revenue for 2010-2011 was from online sales.

This obviously doesn’t spell good news for anyone working in the retail industry, with many employees fearing for the safety of their jobs. And whilst UK cities like London thrive on tourism and have less to worry about with respect to a steady flow of consumers, others aren’t so lucky.

Though panicking is of no good to anyone, it is certainly a good time to take a look at the skills you have, work out where your strengths lie, and maybe think about building up any skills that may be beneficial to you in the long run. Whether that’s through taking a distance learning course in computer skills, or simply putting more time into working on your interpersonal skills, it can never hurt to have a good number of things to boast about to potential employers.

If you have already felt the brunt of the market turning and are currently searching for new employment, make sure you have as many feelers out as possible. Sites like and Monster have ads for jobs in London, Glasgow and every UK city out there – all helpfully broken down into employment sectors. They’re also a good place to find temporary contract work: useful if you’re just looking for a way of keeping your hand in whilst you work on building up your skills for the workplace.

It’s also important to make sure your CV and covering letters are showing you off as best they can. If you have contacts (friends, family or otherwise) in industry positions where they have to look over applications on a regular basis, ask them for some pointers on how best to market yourself. Remember that employers will receive far more applications for one vacancy than they could ever need, so it’s crucial that you are able to stand out in the best way possible.

Finally, remember not to lose hope. When times are tough, it’s likely that you won’t hear back from every employer you apply to, or get an interview straight away. As long as you remain determined, use all the resources available to you, and promote yourself as best you can, you can hold out during this dip in the retail industry.


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