The JPIMedia Data Unit found the 50 per cent reduction in the borough’s workforce in large shops from 1,000 in 2015 to 500 last year.
Retail has faced a turbulent last few years and Wigan has not avoided the turmoil, with a number of high-profile names vanishing from its high street.
Marks and Spencer closed its department store in the town centre to concentrate on its food-only outlet at Robin Park.
And Debenhams, which has a huge two-floor bespoke unit in the Grand Arcade, is currently teetering on the brink while the Arcadia Group has also called in administrators.
The JPIMedia Data Unit found that tens of thousands of retail jobs have gone in the UK in recent years.
However, apart from the huge decline in department store roles the sector has stood up fairly well in Wigan.
Overall the workforce in shops has increased slightly in five years, from 11,350 people in 2015 to 11,525 in 2019.
In physical shops excluding supermarkets, petrol stations and specialist food, drink and tobacco stores employment has risen from 6,275 in 2015 to 6,625 in 2019.
And there were 25 more people working in clothing and footwear stores last year than there had been in 2015, with 1,075 jobs compared to 1,050.
By contrast, across Great Britain as a whole the workforce has gone down by 63,000 in the retail sector, with a small rise in part-time jobs offset by a decline of 6.6 per cent in full-time roles.
As is the case in Wigan department stores are the area of retail struggling most across the country, with a drop in jobs of 19.1 per cent in five years.
The data comes from analysis of figures produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The stats do exclude jobs in online retail, market stalls and door-to-door sales, as well as the car, motorbike and other vehicle sales sector.
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a crisis for retail but the sector was already in decline because of the imbalance between bricks-and-mortar concerns and online stores.
General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “This, combined with the direct impact of the pandemic, has been catastrophic, pushing many retailers to breaking point.”
The British Retail Consortium is warning that if sales do not recover in the festive period there could be further job losses early in 2021.
John Sanson, centre manager at the Grand Arcade, recently told the Wigan Observer he was hopeful traders there would enjoy a busy Christmas season as people were allowed to visit non-essential shops again after lockdown.
Unions, though, are calling for action to save the retail sector. Action is being called for on business rates and the Government is being urged to produce a long-term plan to get the industry back on its feet. Usdaw also wants a one per cent levy on online sales and a reform of UK tax law.
The Government said it has taken “decisive action” to support retailers, including through the extension of the furlough scheme.
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