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Economics Employment

The bull in the retail shop

Retail sales closed out 2017 in a strong fashion, and it’s possible that the demise of brick and mortar retail has been a bit overstated.

Nonetheless, e-commerce has been up while brick and mortar retail has been spotty, at best, this year.

One area for growth this year? Fulfillment centers, or warehouses. We often hear about Amazon’s growth, but there are also a lot of smaller players in the marketplace. Some of them are just smaller e-commerce sites with smaller warehouses.

The New York Times wrote a good piece in October 2017 about the growth of fulfillment centers. One particularly good piece of news is that much of the growth of these major warehouses has been in rural counties. That’s a rare piece of good news for rural counties, which are still reeling from manufacturing losses and an inability to capture younger and more disruptive companies.

A Wall Street Journal article made it sound like retail job losses were not as bad in 2017 as they seemed, but it goes on to state that was because many jobs were added in warehousing and shipping.

From an analyst’s perspective, that may be nice and good, but this still means there are fewer retail jobs and more warehousing jobs. So this is little comfort to someone who has a traditional customer service/retail job and wants to keep that job.

So the logical question is: can retail workers transition to these warehouse jobs? It may seem logical from an analyst’s perspective, but warehouse jobs and retail jobs are very different and require different skill sets and personalities.

According a Marketplace article, most retail workers are more likely to try to search a job board for a customer service position than a warehouse position.

This is one of the challenges that disruption brings. Although disruptive companies (such as e-commerce sites) may improve quality of life, price, or quality for the consumer, there’s a reason they are called disruptive companies. Workers are not always very adaptable to change, regardless of how much we invest in community colleges or other training programs.

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