Consider this before you assume you can have a long or lucrative career in the retail industry:
Up to half of all current jobs in the retail sector are likely to vanish because of e-commerce, automation of jobs and the closing of brick-and-mortar stores.
Millions of retail jobs — as we now know them — are going the way of gas station attendants. Just as ATMs replaced many bank tellers, automated check-out stations are supplanting retail clerks.
And have you watched in-store “shoppers” who do Amazon price checks while they’re standing in the aisles? Have you noticed how many of them leave the store without making a purchase when they found savings by buying online?
But more important to the overall economy than the disappearance of mostly low-income, entry-level jobs in the check-out lane is that the retail jobs likely to remain are requiring different skill sets.
And — another big consequence — the funnel is narrowing through which retail workers are able to get promotions to better-paying, career-type jobs.
One recent analysis, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, estimated that 7.5 million retail jobs are at risk due to computerization. That matters.
“At approximately 16 million workers, retail employment ranks third behind education and health services (22.7 million) and professional and business services (20.3 million),” according to the “Retail Automation: Stranded Workers?” report released in May.
The analysis by Cornerstone Capital Group for the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute, gives a sobering look into the future of retail employment, especially for women who tend to dominate clerk or cashier jobs.
The retailers most likely to succeed are making documented transitions to serve online buyers. Point-of-sale automated kiosks, customer contact centers and automated warehouses are eliminating positions that people once held.
And then there’s workforce management software that better allows merchants to staff up or down as business demands rather than keeping staff on the clock without a good return on that investment.
And here’s another trend to watch: In the notably low-paying retail industry, the movement to mandate minimum wage increases could be a job eliminator at some companies, the report noted.
Conversely, if the retail jobs pay better, they could attract higher caliber workers and help the retailer become a “high-touch, experience-based” organization that shoppers love to patronize.
The Quarterly E-Commerce Report, 4th Quarter 2016, by the U.S. Census said online sales accounted for more than 8 percent of total U.S. retail sales. That doesn’t sound like a lot. But e-commerce sales grew 14.3 percent from the fourth quarter 2015 while total retail sales grew just 4.1 percent.
Heed the comparative growth rates. If you’re aiming for a career at Amazon or somewhere else in the e-commerce world, there’s likely a career future in retail. But your odds probably aren’t as good walking the shop floor.