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Retail news round-up: Best employers; top brands; a reluctance to haggle

John Lewis has been named as the best retailer in the UK to work for, according to employee reviews posted on the website of jobs’ firm Indeed. Cosmetics company Lush was second, followed by IKEA, Marks & Spencer, Clarks, Pandora Jewellery, Harrods, GAME, Waitrose and The Body Shop.

Lego has been voted the top brand in the UK in the annual Superbrands ranking, with last year’s winner British Airways dropping out of the top 20. Gillette was placed second, followed by Apple, Andrex, Coca-Cola and Disney. Marks & Spencer (7th) leapfrogged John Lewis which fell nine places to 15th.

Meanwhile the woes of bankrupt Toys ‘R’ Us have peaked, as the retailers prepares to sell or close all 885 stores in its U.S. chain, putting some 33,000 jobs at risk. The news came shortly after the specialist retailer announced it was closing all its shops in the UK.

Brits are becoming less prepared to haggle over prices, according to a survey by TopCashback.co.uk. Some 21% of consumers said that every price was negotiable, compared to 35% last year. Forty-six per cent of those questioned revealed they were too embarrassed to haggle, and 29% were concerned that the seller wouldn’t respond well.

Sir Jon Cunliffe, deputy governor at the Bank of England, has said that it looks likely that last year, for the first time, the number of card payments overtook cash payments. “Estimates suggest that cash transactions cost retailers less than one and a half pence per transaction, compared with over five pence per transaction for debit cards,” he said.

In a British Retail Consortium survey of UK retailers, 86% indicated they would increase the number of apprenticeships they offer in the next two years.

Although new EU laws introduced more than six weeks ago banned the charging of extra fees for using credit and debit cards, some 14% of shoppers have paid an additional fee for using plastic online or in stores, while 21% have been charged a booking fee for using a card, data from Consumer Intelligence reveals.

Last month, UK retail sales increased by 0.6% on a like-for-like basis from 2017, although non-food sales fell by 1.1% in the three months to February, BRC-KPMG data shows. Paul Martin, KPMG’s head of retail, commented: ‘Retailers experiencing any growth in this environment will be counting themselves lucky.’ Accountant BDO said that online shopping sales rose by 15.8%, although this was still the lowest since records began in 2010. Looking ahead to March, Visa UK said that ‘consumer spending is at risk of posting one of the worst Q1 results on record’ and that the high street ‘remained a key source of weakness’.

Non-food prices in February decreased at a rate of 2.2% compared to January when they declined by 1.9%. This was the deepest deflation since April 2017, according to the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index.

Snow in the last two weeks of February contributed to a 0.5% decrease in footfall compared to 1% growth in the same month last year, data from Springboard showed. However, this was better than the three-month average of -2% and the 12-month average of -0.7%. Half of the regions saw growth last month, the most notable being Northern Ireland which grew by 0.3% – ending eight months of consecutive decline – while the East Midlands grew by 2.1%. Retail parks outperformed all other shopping locations.

New research from the Federation of Small Businesses indicates that half of small firms are already more than one kilometre away from their nearest free-to-use cashpoint, ahead of a proposed cut in ATM funding in July. The majority (51%) of small businesses with a view on free-to-use ATMs say cashpoints are important to their businesses. Among retailers, the figure rises to 59%.

Alan Monahan