Retail employment rose by 0.6% in the final three months of 2012, driven entirely by part-time workers, according to new research.

However, the number of outlets fell by 3.6%, the fastest rate since October 2008, and retailers were less optimistic about maintaining staffing levels than they were the previous year, the BCR-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor found.

Half of retailers suggested they would cut employment in the first quarter of 2013, compared with just one-third at the same time last year. Only 4%of retailers indicated they would increase staffing levels, down from 13% last year.

The average number of employees per store has risen to its highest levels since September 2010, reflecting an increase in the number of grocery convenience outlets, which require a higher number of employees per square foot than large hypermarkets, the report’s authors said.

In addition, competition has driven a renewed demand for better customer service and faster queuing times, they added.

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium director general, said: “The fact that total employment edged up during this quarter, driven by part-time workers, is a shaft of light against an otherwise challenging backdrop. It shows that, despite relentlessly tough times, retailers are continuing to invest in people and support job creation as much as they can.”

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, head of retail employment at law firm Bond Pearce, added: “Employment figures may have risen slightly last quarter, due to temporary seasonal staff, but employment intentions for the next three months reflect the stark reality with half of retailers intending to cut staff.

“It is hard to believe that retail employment will remain robust for long under such pressure but at present retail redundancy rates are still low and private sector job creation continues to outstrip public sector losses.”