The UK’s retail sector endured a difficult 2018. At times the “death of the high street” jostled with Brexit for newspaper headlines, but Britain’s retailers, long seen as a barometer of the wider economy, have rebounded in the first part of 2019.
The first nine months of 2018 saw 85,000 workers in the sector lose their jobs, with household names such as House of Fraser, Toys R Us and Debenhams all suffering high-profile difficulties.
While this backdrop may not appear the most encouraging, the reality is that retail is still an attractive sector for many workers. Its camaraderie, human interaction, flexibility and accessibility all play in its favour with prospective staff.
And while the headlines are often grabbed by the travails of the sector’s embattled big names, there are plenty of retailers whose businesses remain strong, and whose cultures are both admired by – and appealing to – would-be recruits.
Our data team analysed millions of employee ratings and reviews on Indeed Company Pages to determine, from a workers’ point of view, which are Britain’s top-rated retailers for 2019.
Wren Kitchens cooks up a storm
Last year’s runner-up, Wren Kitchens has gone one better this time round by clinching the top spot in the 2019 rankings, a mark of impressive consistency and a testament to the loyalty and happiness of its workforce.
Based on Humberside, the company is a true UK success story, manufacturing all the kitchen units it sells in its three British production plants. Wren’s job security, benefits programme and inclusive ethos continue to work wonders in making it the top rated retailer to work for in the UK.
It is followed by five other homegrown companies. Lush Cosmetics, a perennial high achiever in Indeed’s lists, takes second spot ahead of bed retailer Dreams, shoe chain Clarks and high street giant Marks and Spencer, with luxury department store Harrods just outside the top five.
John Lewis loses its crown
Retail can be a fickle game where fortunes change quickly and it is clear to see the impact a challenging 2018 has had on last year’s winner of this ranking, John Lewis & Partners, after it dropped from first place to eighth spot.
Its motto may be ‘never knowingly undersold’ but a drop in profits of 45% last year led to its staff – famously all members of the partnership – receiving bonuses of just 3%, the lowest level since 1953.
While there is more to job satisfaction than just the pay, it nevertheless does remain one of the key motivators for staff. Moreover, any financial difficulties a business encounters can have a knock-on effect on the atmosphere of the company, and on the morale of its staff, as pressure builds to deliver results.
It will be cause for concern for John Lewis, which has long prided itself on being one of the country’s most desirable places to work. Whether this is a blip or symptomatic of a wider decline in retail remains to be seen.
Other eye-catching employers making Indeed’s top 15 include Superdry, whose co-founder quit last year, sparking profit warnings in a saga that continues to run. Despite this, the retailer remains popular among its staff, sitting in 14th spot in the ranking.
Who are the UK’s top rated retailers?
A relative newcomer at just a decade old, the kitchen fittings specialist Wren Kitchens has performed impressive feats in a short space of time.
In June 2018, the company earned plaudits for offering sanctuary to all B&Q staff who were under threat of redundancy, opening vacancies for design consultants from the troubled DIY chain.
One employee told Indeed that “the most enjoyable part of the job is the job security and the pensions it offers – the company is growing and this allows potentially more money,” while another praised the “fast-paced working environment – never boring and always something new to learn.”
A frequent employees’ favourite – the company came seventh in last year’s overall top rated companies, not just in the retail sector – Lush Cosmetics is, like Wren Kitchens, a great example of how small British businesses can grow and thrive.
The company is famous for not spending any money on advertising. Its success is entirely driven by word of mouth, a mark of the confidence it has in its products.
Headquartered in Dorset, Lush now has 11,000 employees worldwide. The company prides itself on its ethics and is very conscious of the gender balance, ensuring a significant number of women are on its payroll at every level from warehouse to boardroom.
One former employee told Indeed that “the company has really good core beliefs so it’s great to work somewhere that invests so much in the environment,” with another citing the “brilliant pay, really flexible and a lovely team to work with” for marking it highly.
The bed and mattress manufacturer and retailer has expanded from its first store in Uxbridge to now boast close to 200 stores nationwide, and almost 2,000 employees.
Its head office – or ‘Bedquarters’ – is in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, while its factory in Oldbury in the West Midlands produces up to 10,000 mattresses, bases and headboards every week.
One current employee told Indeed: “Every day at Bedquarters is different. It’s always interesting and varied, and all management are very approachable – there’s no feeling of them and and us.”
Drawing on nearly two centuries of retail experience, Clarks remains a family business – it is still 84% owned by the Clark family.
Still run out of Street in Somerset, the company is now a global giant, with 1,500 stores worldwide and 14,000 employees. It is estimated that 105 pairs of Clarks shoes are sold every minute.
The company’s work-life balance and culture were where it scored most highly among its staff, with one former employee praising how “they support you and encourage you if you want to progress” and another describing the “very friendly work atmosphere – an extremely rewarding workplace.”
A household name and high street giant, Marks and Spencer employs more than 80,000 people across an operation that includes 1,035 UK and 428 overseas stores spread over 56 international territories.
Its high performance in this year’s list of top retailers to work for flies in the face of some negative press last year, when it announced the closure of more than 100 stores by the end of 2022 as part of a company restructuring.
More positive news was found in its groceries division which announced last month that it will replace Waitrose as the food provider for home deliveries service Ocado, the first time Marks and Spencer has entered into a delivery deal.
One current employee told Indeed that “M&S is a great place to develop management skills and progress through a career path,” while others cited the supportive management and flexible hours as key attractions.