A report published today has found that Jersey’s retailers are facing challenging times, particularly with the increase of internet shopping and uncertainties caused by Brexit. However, the report also found that these challenges can be overcome if retailers remain open to new ideas, technologies and innovation, whilst also supporting decision making with good quality data.
Among its 29 Key Findings and 15 Recommendations, the Economic Affairs Scrutiny Panel has found that in order to thrive in the face of the enormous challenge presented by online shopping, retailers will have to ensure their staff have the right skills to both improve the quality of customer service in the island - so customers return to their stores and choose to shop locally - and to provide the sector with a bright future by having the skills to develop exciting and fulfilling careers in retail.
The introduction of a career-focused retail course (run by Highlands College) is a great example of the steps currently being taken to enhance skill levels in the retail workforce.
The Panel has recommended that by building on previous customer service training initiatives, the industry should provide a customer service course to all new members of staff so they develop a minimum standard of customer service and can help the island develop a reputation as offering excellent service. It is by offering differentiating qualities such as service standards, that Jersey's retailers will be able to compete with their online rivals and can help develop the island's reputation as a "consumer tourism" destination.
The review acknowledges the importance of retail to the island's tourism sector. A lively and welcoming town centre, which offers a diverse range of products, brands and events can be a major attraction and make a significant contribution to the local economy.
Among its recommendations, the Panel suggests that the Economic Development Department needs to collect better and more wide-ranging data on the retail sector because the lack of good quality data is a clear impediment to effective management of retail in Jersey.
The Panel also looked at the deregulation of Sunday trading, which is expected to be brought forward as a government proposal in 2019. The Panel backs the government's presumed position on this because it could also benefit the tourism industry by ensuring St Helier remains an interesting destination for weekend visitors. However, whilst offering support for this position, the Panel has advised that proper protections regarding people's rights to worship and to spend time with their families, are included.
Chairman of the Panel, Deputy Kirsten Morel said:
“The retail sector plays a major role in our economy. It generates around £38 million in GST and employs close to 8,000 people. There's no doubt that the sector has experienced difficult times in recent years and the challenges it faces are ongoing. However, the Panel has found that the outlook can remain positive if retailers and authorities such as the Economic Development Department and the Parish of St Helier remain flexible and open to new ideas.
Key to this is the collection of basic data about the retail sector. We need to have a clear view of the health of the industry at any one time in order to make informed decisions. Currently, the paucity of data makes this almost impossible.
As a Panel, we are pleased that the Department is working on a new Retail Development Strategy and hope that the findings and recommendations made in our report will assist in producing a cohesive and co-ordinated strategy to support the retail sector."