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MUMBAI/NEW DELHI : Retail sector poaching, which used to be a big-city phenomenon, is increasingly becoming true in tier-II and tier-III cities as the festival season draws near, and more offline stores open up to meet post-pandemic demand.

Companies in the retail sector are rolling out counter-offers and giving pay hikes of as much as 70% to stem defections and recruit staff, industry officials said.

“Attrition in the retail sector is about 25% compared to 15% in pre-covid times. It is higher in the junior levels, and a large part of it is because of the retail and brand expansion in smaller towns," said Shiv Agrawal, managing director of recruitment firm ABC Consultants.

According to the Retailers’ Association of India, India’s retail sector employs 45 million people. About five million people moved out of the workforce during the pandemic or lost their jobs, but most of them have been absorbed back.

“We expect an additional 2-3 million people to be hired in the next three to four months," said Kumar Rajagopalan, chief executive officer of RAI. The industry body’s data shows that retail business has grown 20% in the last four months from pre-pandemic levels.

The expansion of large retail chains such as Reliance Retail, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail, Tata group-owned Trent, Shoppers Stop, and Landmark Group-owned Lifestyle in both metros and smaller cities has fuelled the poaching wars further. “We have middle-management dropouts after a few weeks of joining, and this after a 70% hike and a joining bonus. One has to restart the hiring all over again when a company is opening many stores a day and trying to meet the festival season demand," said a senior human resources executive at one of the top three retail firms.

The festive season peaks during Diwali and will continue till the year-end.

Email queries sent to Trent Ltd and Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail remained unanswered.

“A proliferation of skills has not happened, and the pie is pretty much the same; so, everyone is going after that. Hence, (candidates) have more than one option," said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive director of TeamLease Services.

Junior executives who moved out to e-commerce firms and food delivery platforms during the pandemic are now returning to the retail sector. The senior management is witnessing a churn as well. Mint had reported in July that Reliance Industries Ltd’s (RIL) retail arm is scouting for as many as 200 senior executives at the vice-president level and above with annual salaries of 1 crore or more and thousands of other junior and mid-level executives.

The resurgence of offline retail stores is another push behind the scale-up and recruitment.

“Organized retail is now getting popular, and the mom-and-pop stores are dying.Earlier, one travelled during the festive season to larger towns, but there is no need for that now," said K. Sudarshan, managing director of executive search firm EMA Partners India.

In fact, ABC Consultants said the ratio of online to offline store shopping rose from 30:70 before covid to 70:30 during the pandemic and is now almost 50:50, spurring the hiring drive.

Retail sector leasing in India rose about 166% year-on-year, crossing 1.5 million sq. ft in the first half of 2022, according to recent estimates by real estate consulting firm CBRE.

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