Retail – A British Success Story

Even as a Professor of Retail Studies, I still get disparaging comments from academic colleagues in ‘proper’ subjects and from journalists and others – retailing isn’t that significant they say, and how can you possibly study it, given it’s so easy?

Three decades of frustration and constant reiteration of the sophistication, reach, scale and significance of retailing may have made some dent in some people, but it is a long road.  Because people go shopping, and see shops everywhere (well, not so much now) they assume ubiquity equates to simplicity and irrelevance.

It does not.

It is therefore timely that the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has produced an appraisal of the retail sector in the UK.  Entitled ‘UK Retail: Leading Globally, Serving Locally’ it sets out the breadth of retail’s contribution to the country.

Amongst the many points it makes are:

  • Retail sales are 20% of UK GDP and 5% of GVA.
  • UK retailers are more productive than Euro zone equivalents.
  • Three million people work in retailing, 10.5% of total employment.
  • Retailers account for 12% of total training spend in the UK (50% per employee more than the financial sector and above manufacturing).
  • UK retail pays 9% of total tax in the country (28% of business rates, 11% of corporation tax).
  • 11% of global internet retail sales occur in the UK (#3 in the world)

This is an important document and should be compulsory reading for policy makers, journalists and academic economists, amongst others.  Too often retailing is taken for granted. Retailing is vitally important to the UK, and British retailers moving internationally, adds further value to the country and its brand.

The figures are a timely reminder of retail’s importance.  They follow hot on the heels of the DTZ report into retailing’s contribution to the Scottish economy, published in the spring.

It would be good if the BRC, through the Scottish Retail Consortium, produced Scottish data from this latest work and their other resources, to continue making the message – Retail Matters.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.
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