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Getting a low-paid job in French and UK supermarkets: from walk-in to online application?

Geraldine Rieucau (Centre d'Etudes de l'Emploi, Noisy-le-Grand, France, AND Laboratoire d'Economie dionysien, Paris 8 University, St-Denis France)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 5 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to compare the recruitment practices of the French and UK retail industry. It analyses the influence of specific business constraints, labour market institutions and employment patterns on recruitment practices. It devotes attention to incidences of the shift from classic to web-based hiring methods.


The cases of two leading food retail chains are explored. This research draws on a mixed approach using semi-structured interviews, the analysis of online job-advertisement content and web sites.


According to the literature, local and informal hiring channels (walk-in application, word-of-mouth, in-store adverts) are mainly used to fill low-paid vacancies in food retail chains. They are congruent with the key screening criteria as they allow face-to-face selection and provide candidates from the surrounding area. However, the food retail chains in this research have implemented a centralised and at-a-distance process which contrasts with the classic methods. Based on an “Internet-only scheme” and online testing, it is especially selective in the UK.

Research limitations/implications

The number of semi-structured interviews is limited. Additional investigations are needed to evaluate whether the at-a-distance processes are isolated or whether they reflect growing practices.

Practical implications

Retail food employers have to maintain a diversity of local hiring channels and not to indiscriminately embrace the at-a-distance scheme, which is not adapted to evaluate the key requirements.

Social implications

A centralised and at-a-distance recruitment process decreases unfair face-to-face discrimination in selection but at the same time introduces indirect discrimination. This process may be interpreted as a way to target students; there is a risk that it exacerbates inequalities in low-wage labour markets.


The topic is poorly explored. There is a need to understand web-based recruitment.



The paper benefitted from the helpful comments from the anonymous reviewers and the journal’s editor. The author thanks Guillemette de Larquier, Emmanuelle Marchal, Jackie O’Reilly and Pascal Ughetto for comments on earlier version of this paper. The author has a debt of gratitude to the interviewees who gave of their time and provided valuable insights. The French research was supported by the French Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and the Centre d’études de l’emploi. The UK research was supported by Paris 8 University and Brighton University.


Rieucau, G. (2015), "Getting a low-paid job in French and UK supermarkets: from walk-in to online application?", Employee Relations, Vol. 37 No. 1, pp. 141-156.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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