The retail and wholesale are important industries in Sweden. They employ a significant proportion of employees, approximately 500 000 individuals, and promotes the integration of immigrants and young people's entry into the Swedish labor market.

According to the Swedish Retail and Wholesale Council, one in four currently employed in the Swedish labor market has begun their labor career in either retail or wholesale. This figure clearly shows the importance of the industries for young people, immigrants and individuals who have been unemployed, as it functions as an entry job to the Swedish labor market.

The retail and wholesale industry thus provide an opportunity for a large number of individuals to get employment, income, contacts and a social network.

The statistics from the Swedish Retail and Wholesale Council do however also highlight one major problem that exist within these industries: it is coupled with high labor turnover. Of all those who had their first job in the trade (25 percent of all employed) a majority switch jobs within or to a different industry.

The age distribution of employees in the industry shows the same tendency as both industries are characterized by a disproportionately high percentage of young individuals (especially women) and a lower proportion of older people compared to the average industries in Sweden.


Who are we?

We are four researchers investigating the retailing and wholesale world. Although these fields contain a multitude of fascinating aspects, in this project we focus specifically on the career paths and labor turnover that exists in these industries.


Industry challenges

Recruiting and maintaining employees with the right skills and competences is one of the biggest challenges which firm face regardless of their industry belonging and location in Sweden. For industries that also have problems retaining existing staff within the company, such as in retailing and wholesale, there are additional challenges and costs.[1] Hitherto, there are limited studies which focus on the employees within these sectors and their career choices.


project goals

The purpose of this project is to contribute with knowledge concerning the labor churn and career paths that employees have in retailing and wholesale in Sweden. The identified career paths relate to those who stay in retailing and wholesale for a substantial amount of years, those who advance in the industry, those who choose to quit, and those that become entrepreneurs.

By using this information, it is also possible to find common denominators among employees that share the same career trajectory. This knowledge is paramount for employees, individual companies and the industry as a whole.

From a societal point of view, labor turnover is not always bad as a certain level of turnover ensures a renewal process of the human capital of firms as well as employees. However, when the turnover rates exceed the ideal level the induced costs are substantial for the industry and for the individual companies, as well as for the employees.

Companies spend a lot of resources on recruiting and training new employees, an investment that does not yield any of the expected returns if the employees are prone to change workplace in the near future.

For newly established firms and small businesses that have even less room for error recruitment, high labor turnover is extra problematic.


For the industry as a whole, it is about the aggregate level of skills supply and how attractive the industry is as a workplace for competent staff.

Given the rapid change taking place in retail and wholesale, because of advances in technology and competition from alternative channels such as e-commerce, competent personnel need both experience and knowledge of the industry.

Employees with knowledge and experience in retail and wholesale can better identify and enable the changes that are required for the firm to maintain and, in the long term, also enhance its competitiveness.[2]

Labor turnover in retail and wholesale is a problem that has been noted by various agencies. There are however few studies that focus on the retailing and wholesale industry and it therefore exist a lack of information.

The studies that do exist are based primarily on survey data and cross-sectional data.[3] This means that the studies are unable to capture the changes that occur across time. Furthermore, the studies are usually based on small samples. Studies that are based on time series data use data over 30 years old.


The harsh competitive climate of recent decades, in terms of technology and globalization, has increased the importance of being able to maintain and build a competence base in the firm.

Against this background, there is a great need for projects that focus on the industries skills’ supply based on up-to-date data. Moreover, the perspective of the individual is a generally an under researched aspect.

Instead of looking at the firm’s labor turnover and starting with the firm at its core, we will put the employee at the center and follow him/her over time to identify which career steps he/she takes. An additional dimension is that we conduct the study in Sweden, whereas previous research has focused primarily on the United States.

Sweden is an in interesting country to study as the labor market is characterized by a large rigidity where both employees and employers are affected. Employers face the constraint of having a lower involuntary turnover and employees face the constraint of having less job opportunities. This can, for example, cause a higher proportion of short-term contracts.

Given these labor market conditions the effect of the different individual, firm and locational characteristics might have a lower impact, or a different impact compared to other countries with more flexible labor markets such as Denmark and United States.


Reference group

To support us we have a reference group with representatives from the industry, local community and interest organizations.

Conny Olsson, BERGENDAHLS, Hässleholm.

Jonathan Lundin, DAGAB (AXFOOD), Jönköping.

Björn Lindblad, MIO, Jönköping.

Marie Andersson, IKEA, Jönköping.

Pia Andersén, TEAM SPORTIA, Jönköping

Jonas Månesköld, STADIUM, Västra Götaland.


Jesper Lidhjelm Steen, JÖNKÖPING CITY AB.

Mats Johansson, Handelsrådet yrke och kompetens.

Jalali Shadé, Unionen.


[1] Booth, S., & Hamer, K. (2007). Labour turnover in the retail industry: Predicting the role of individual, organisational and environmental factors. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 35(4), 289-307.

Broadbridge, A. (2002). Rationalising retail employment: a view from the outside looking in. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 30(11), 536-543.

[2] Brush, C. G., & Chaganti, R. (1999). Businesses without glamour? an analysis of resources on performance by size and age in small service and retail firms. Journal of Business Venturing, 14(3), 233-257.

[3] O'Leary, S., & Deegan, J. (2005). Career progression of Irish tourism and hospitality management graduates. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 17(5), 421-432.

Salleh, R., Nair, M. S., & Harun, H. (2012). Job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover intention: A case study on employees of a retail company in Malaysia. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, 72(12), 316-323.