Retail is Britain’s most visible business sector. It gives millions of Britons their first taste of work, and much like the weather, it’s something we all experience and all have an opinion on.
Inevitably, it’s also used as a barometer of the wider economy. Nothing says boomtime like the opening of a shiny new shopping centre, and nothing says times are tough like a high street full of boarded-up shops.
Retail has always been a competitive business, and shoppers are more likely to vote with their feet if money is tight. That’s certainly the case right now; as millions of Britons see their spending power eroded by rising prices, official figures show that retail sales rose by just 1.9% in 2017, the slowest pace since 2013.
February also saw some well known high street names go bust, including Toys R Us and the electronics store Maplin. In part this is down to the continued growth of online shopping— which now accounts for 18% of all retail sales.
But Britain’s high street retailers are responding to the shift in shoppers’ habits by ramping up their online presence, creating thousands of new jobs in their warehouses and distribution centres. And they’re also investing in people to staff their physical stores as a way to differentiate their brands from internet-only rivals.
That’s why retailers are competing with each other to attract—and retain—the best staff. But which are the best ones to work for? Our data scientists analysed thousands of company reviews posted on Indeed by present and past employees to compile a ranking of Britain’s top 15 retail employers.
John Lewis takes the #1 spot
The department store John Lewis came top of our high street hit parade, scoring consistently highly in the five areas in which reviewers judged employers: work/life balance, pay, job security, management and culture.
As Britain’s best-known partnership, John Lewis famously invites staff to become partners and offers them a share of the profits.
Good rates of pay were a common theme among the most popular companies; third-placed IKEA was the first large retailer to commit to paying the Living Wage or more to all staff.
Second-placed Lush Cosmetics also pays at least the Living Wage to all retail staff, and scored highly for its ethical stance, flexible work hours and 50% staff discount.
Meanwhile staff at seventh-placed Harrods praised the luxury store for its workplace environment and company culture, showing the value employees put on non-financial rewards.
While our list features several global brands—including the US-based Gap and TK Maxx as well as Sweden’s furniture giant Ikea—British-based companies dominate, accounting for 11 of the 15 top spots.
How Britain’s most popular retailers keep their staff happy
Britain’s largest multi-channel retailer is best known for three things: its eight decade-old “Never knowingly undersold” price promise, heartwarming TV ads at Christmas and its partnership structure.
Unlike most companies, John Lewis employees are invited to become partners in the business. This means they get a share of the profits, but also that they feel empowered and motivated.
The partnership is a big part of John Lewis’s attraction as an employer. One partner at a London store recently posted on Indeed that the “democracy is excellent” and that partners “get excellent benefits and everyone is treated like equals”.
The company scored particularly highly for its workplace culture and the work/life balance it offers.
One reviewer on Indeed summed up their experience like this: “This is a fantastic place to work with some incredible people. John Lewis has a reputation for being one of the best places to work in the UK and with good reason.”
Barely two decades since it was founded in Dorset, the handmade cosmetics company Lush has grown to have 900 stores in more than 50 countries. Lush invents and makes its own products and fragrances, using only fresh, organic and vegetarian ingredients.
Lush achieved the highest mark in our ranking for its workplace culture. Reviewers frequently praised the company’s ethical values, with one posting: “employees become friends and often feel like family.”
Others praised the 50% discount offered to staff and the on-the-job training. Many reviewers agreed that employees are expected to work hard – especially those in customer-facing roles – but that the atmosphere and culture make it all worthwhile.
It’s a diverse and supportive place to work, with one reviewer concluding: “You’re very much encouraged to be yourself and bring your personality to work.”
IKEA is the world’s biggest furniture retailer, with 135,000 employees in 43 countries. Known for its Scandinavian style and affordable prices, its mission – which is best said in a Swedish accent – is “to create a better everyday life for the many people.”
Past and present employees who posted reviews on Indeed awarded the company high marks for the pay and benefits it offers, as well as the company culture.
Many praised the rates of pay and the quality of food offered in IKEA’s subsidised staff canteens, and appreciated the company’s policy of empowering staff to ‘take responsibility’.
IKEA also prides itself on its commitment to diversity and inclusion, with one former employee posting on Indeed: “Working at IKEA was like working with a family of 400 people, everyone there was really friendly and willing to help. The people I met there are still a part of my life now.”
One of the best-known names on the British high street, Marks & Spencer started as a single market stall in Leeds. It now has 1000 stores across the UK, another 400 spread across the world and annual revenues of £10bn.
Though best known for its high quality clothes and homeware, in recent years its food business has become a star of Britain’s supermarket sector too.
Reviews posted on Indeed praised the work/life balance offered to employees, as well as the salary and benefits – which include a 20% discount card for staff members and their partners.
Others singled out the quality of the training, with one employee from Liverpool writing of their six-year career with the company: “M&S is a fabulous place to work. It is a great working environment that encourages personal creativity, progression and talent.
Nearly two centuries after it was founded in Somerset, Clarks has become a global shoes brand with more than 1000 outlets around the world. Over the years it has designed and sold more than 22,000 styles of shoes and boots – and it enjoys a reputation for its robust, well-made products.
The company is still majority-owned by the Clark family, and working there offers a good work / life balance, according to many of the reviews posted by present and past employees on Indeed.
One Clarks sales assistant from London described it as “a great company to work for. Not only for the atmosphere created by colleagues, but also the ability to be transferred to a different store or to pick up extra shifts.”
However it can be a seasonal business, with staff reporting that things get very busy at the start of the school year. One shoe fitter described their role as “extremely rewarding and it can be very fun if you are positive about working with members of the public and children.”