Retail jobs: lost and found
- Posted on May 11, 2017
The numbers were startling, if coincidental. The U.S. Labor Department March 2017 Jobs Report stated that just over 30,000 jobs had been lost in the retail sector in that month. The day before the Labor Department figures were released, Amazon announced that it was planning to hire 30,000 more people! Net-net? Not quite. At least a fair proportion of the jobs lost were linked to store closings at retailers like Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and others. Of the 30,000 new Amazon jobs, 25,000 will be warehouse positions with the remaining 5,000 slated for home-based jobs, answering calls, emails and chats. So, none of them are in-store positions. The numbers point to an industry in the midst of an upheaval, with physical stores taking the biggest hit at the moment. But as the industry strives to figure out the role of the physical store in the future shopping lives of customers, it also needs to spend some time figuring out how to equip its workforce with the tools and training required to help it survive.
A recently published research report from EKN and Avanade entitled, “The changing role of the store: Is your workforce ready?” asked retailers across the globe to anticipate how their stores (and their workforce) will change over the next few years. More than half of the retailers surveyed expect traditional stores to change significantly by 2020, with many eyeing other formats, like theme-based and pop-up stores and fulfillment centers becoming more prevalent. To accommodate these changes, the retailers surveyed believe that technology will be instrumental in enabling the workforce to provide the right customer experience.
When asked what store capabilities will have the greatest impact on workforce productivity and performance, the responses with the highest percentages were online/digital execution and fulfillment from the store and access to workforce training and development on mobile/digital devices (both at 40%). The study also suggests that many of the new technologies – such as bots, automated processes and machine learning – can be used to augment employees’ capabilities. Respondents to the survey noted that a more prepared, empowered and engaged workforce could improve metrics such as consumer satisfaction, stock availability, online and in-store sales, and store operating margins.
The drop in jobs for the retail sector is hardly good news. Maybe it’s an anomaly, but as retailers struggle to find their footing in today’s quickly changing atmosphere, they might be wise to look at ways to evolve the role of the store employee and align their skills to whatever the store of the immediate future requires.