Having been around for centuries in the United States, the retail industry is no stranger to the economy we live in today. The industry is constantly experiencing ups and downs, depending on the styles, trends, and brands that are “in” at the moment. However, the industry is now experiencing something different – a revolutionary shift to e-commerce at a rapid pace. Recent studies show that just over half of the American population today prefers shopping online. I mean, who even likes spending hours at a mall just to find one t-shirt?According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as of this quarter, e-commerce retail sales make up 8.9% of total retail sales. Overall, this percentage has increased by 13.8% since 2000. As a result, retail companies are shutting down store locations, laying off employees, and some are even going under.
Just like almost any other advancement in technology, this disruption in the retail industry has had a direct effect on employment. According to The Atlantic, major department stores, such as Macy’s, have “shed nearly 100,000 jobs” from October 2016 to April of this year.
So how is it that thousands of jobs are being shed as a result of this transition, but yet we are seeing an increase in the number of jobs and wealth in America? Economist Michael Mandel believes that this shift towards online retail has actually had a positive impact towards employment. His studies show that the e-commerce market has created more jobs than the total lost jobs caused by the transition. But wait, there’s more! – These new jobs that are being created by the e-commerce sector are paying much higher wages than traditional retail jobs.
The statistics generated by Mandel assume that “general warehousing” jobs are directly correlated with retail sales. He uses the example of Amazon to justify his argument by saying that they employ 12,000 employees, which includes warehouse workers, rather than the 2,640 that the Bureau of Labor Statistics states, which does not.
Mandel might be up to something with his optimistic analysis, but it is truly very difficult to measure the direct effect e-commerce has had on employment. There are just way too many aspects, making it too complex to come to an accurate conclusion. However, it is always great to hear that we might actually be heading towards the right direction. Many people would argue – What will happen once robots start replacing humans in these warehouses? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!