Wilko’s imminent closure is poised to push the tally of lost jobs in British High Street collapses beyond the 100,000 mark since the onset of 2020.

Statistics from the Centre of Retail Research (CRR) underscore the severe crisis that has gripped the industry since the advent of the pandemic.

Notable casualties include Debenhams and Philip Green’s Arcadia empire, which encompassed the iconic Topshop brand.

Wilko, in particular, faces the potential permanent loss of up to 12,500 jobs. Although B&M and Poundland have stepped in to acquire a combined total of 122 stores, employees remain uncertain about their future.

The Range has taken ownership of Wilko’s brand and website, but regrettably, only 36 jobs on the digital team have been preserved.

The most significant retail failure since 2008

The impending closure of all 398 Wilko stores by the coming month represents the most significant retail failure since Woolworths in 2008. CRR data reveals that this year alone, there have been more than 17,000 job losses at large to medium-sized retailers, including those at Wilko. These are actual job losses, distinct from instances where other companies absorb affected workers.

To provide some context, in 2022, the retail sector witnessed 6,732 job losses, while in 2021, this number soared to 24,179. In 2020, the figure reached 53,364 as the ripple effects of the pandemic took hold. Consequently, over 101,000 individuals have found themselves unemployed since 2020, encompassing both former and soon-to-be ex-Wilko staff.

What does the future look like?

In addition to Wilko, substantial job losses were recorded at Arcadia (13,000) and Debenhams (18,500) in 2020. Over the past year, fashion brand Joules had to lay off 133 employees after being acquired by Next, while fast-fashion brand Missguided saw 330 jobs disappear.

Despite the efforts of third parties to salvage the intellectual property and online presence of defunct retailers, physical stores have often been left behind. Susannah Streeter of Hargreaves Lansdown emphasised the need for retailers to keenly understand customer preferences and financial constraints. She noted that competition from e-commerce is undeniable, but retailers must also remain adaptable.

Brands like Primark have succeeded by offering the right products at the right prices and effectively using social media to create a sense of urgency, enticing customers into their physical stores. Streeter praised Next and Marks & Spencer for successfully harmonising their online and physical retail offerings.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.