The government has been urged to do more to back independent IT retailers following research indicating they employ several times more staff for every £1m sales than their web-based or multiple rivals.
According to research carried out by distributor Target Components, single-store independent IT retailers employ 21 staff per £1m sales.
That's almost five times more than the average 4.7 ratio of the three major office/IT retailer Target looked at. Staples had a ratio of 5.6, Dixons Retail 4.5 and Comet (now defunct) 4.7.
And the ratio for independents is nearly 13 times higher than the average of 1.8 for the six IT internet retailers Target examined. Scan Computers had a ratio of 2.3, Ebuyer 1.1, OCUK 1.2, Buy IT Direct 2.1, Dabs.com 2.3 and Misco UK 2.0.
Taking as red that the 4.7 ratio holds for the entire UK retail sector, for every one per cent of retail spend switched from multiples to independents, 57,000 net jobs would be created, Target estimated.
And continuing to run with that logic, 1.2 million retail jobs would be created if the UK reverted back to the marketshare split between large and small retailers in 1990, when small retailers held 42 per cent of the pie, compared with 21 per cent in 2012, according to ONS figures.
Meanwhile, shifting all online sales offline would create between 114,000 and 837,000 net additional jobs, Target said, depending on whether the sales were picked up by multiples or independents.
Target managing director Paul Cubbage accepted that the figures may not hold exactly for non-IT retailers but maintained they highlight that the gap in employment ratios is higher than previously thought.
"The results are far more dramatic than we expected," he said.
Cubbage said the research means politicians should be wary of opening out-of-town shopping centres on a platform of job creation.
Talking to CRN, Cubbage said: "The counter argument is that, if you're employing more people to do the same job, you must be more inefficient and the worry is that means higher prices. But our own research shows that independents have lower prices. It just comes down the fact that far more profit is created globally through the multiples. But much of that profit is going overseas and can potentially evade UK taxes."
Cubbage called on the government to "re-engineer the retail landscape and reverse the trend of the last 20 years". This could be done through rates relief and employers' NIC holidays he said, or converting large empty units into a number of smaller units for independents.
"We need to stop new retail projects for multiple retailers - they simply divert sales from other retailers, including independents, and cost rather than create jobs," he said, adding that a tax on internet sales should also be considered.
Target drew the independent retail data from surveying its own customers, two-thirds of which are independent retailers. The data on the IT chains and web stores came from statutory accounts from 2011 or 2012, depending on the retailer.
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