By Associated Press, January 8, 2018 -- With new options and conveniences, there's never been a better time for shoppers. As for workers — well, not always.
The retail industry is being radically reshaped by technology, and nobody feels that disruption more starkly than 16 million American shelf stockers, salespeople, cashiers and other workers. The shifts are driven, like much in retail, by the Amazon effect — the explosion of online shopping and the related changes in consumer behavior and preferences.
As mundane tasks such as checkout and inventory are automated, employees are trying to deliver the kind of customer service the internet can't match.
So a Best Buy employee who used to sell electronics in the store is dispatched to customers' homes to help them choose just the right products. A Wal-Mart worker dashes in and out of the grocery aisles, hand-picks products for online shoppers and brings them to people's cars.
Yet even as responsibilities change — and in many cases, expand — the average growth in pay for retail workers isn't keeping pace with the rest of the economy. Some companies say that in the long run the transformation could mean fewer retail workers, though they may be better paid. But while some workers feel more satisfied, others find their jobs a lot less fun.
Bloomingdale's saleswoman Brenda Moses remembers the pre-internet era, when the upscale store was regularly filled with customers ready to buy. These days, department stores are less crowded and the customers who do come in can make price comparisons on their phones at the same time as they pepper staff with questions.
“You tell them everything, and then they look at you and say, ‘You know what? I think I will get it online,’” Moses said.
Moses has seen her commission rate rise to 6%, from 0.5%, but her hourly wage dropped from $19 to as low as $10 before it came back up to $14. Depending more on commissions means her income fluctuates — and that she's competing with her colleagues for each sale.
“Now,” Moses said, “you have to fight to make your money.”
The same could be said for the retailing industry overall. In 2017, 66,500 U.S. retail jobs disappeared (not taking into account jobs added in areas such as distribution and call centers). In the last decade, about 1 in 7 jobs have vanished in the hardest-hit sectors such as clothing and consumer electronics, said Frank Badillo, director of research at MacroSavvy LLC. Though department stores have suffered the most, smaller businesses also have struggled to compete with online sellers.
Many of the survivors are rushing to adapt. Of the retail jobs that remain, over the next decade as many as 60% either will be new kinds of roles or will involve revised duties, said Craig Rowley, senior client partner at Korn Ferry Hay Group, a human resources advisory firm. He estimated the number is about 10% now.
How fast retail jobs will change and what they'll look like depends on three factors, Rowley said: the pace at which online shopping advances; the speed at which robotics and other technology progress; and shifts in the minimum wage.