Are e-commerce jobs replacing retail jobs?

With many major retailers closing stores and e-commerce surging, we’ve been getting a lot of queries on this question, and our job posting data were cited in The Economist’s story on the topic. We thought we would examine the question in more depth.

We view the economy through the lens of job postings, which gives a unique perspective on how employers hire and what skills they want. Retail accounts for a huge amount of American jobs. In 2016, our analysis of job postings finds there were more than 2.4 million job postings in the retail sector. Only health care employers posted more jobs.

Retail job postings are down slightly. From 2014 to 2016, annual postings for traditional brick-and-mortar retail roles (including retail salespersons, cashiers, and retail supervisors) decreased 1%.

E-commerce postings are surging, but they are still only a small number of job postings. E-commerce is a little slippery to analyze, since it encompasses both pure online services (like Amazon) and the online branches of traditional retailers. Either way, there’s no question this sector is growing fast. Demand for e-commerce skills in retail broadly, regardless of role, grew 32% between 2014 and 2016. Specialized roles, like E-Commerce Analysts, grew 27% in retail.

Another way of looking at the question is by mapping specific kinds of jobs. Overall IT job postings in retail firms grew 17%. And the 11% growth in warehouse workers in retail is suggestive, since e-commerce puts additional demands on storage and shipping operations.

But, as you’ll see in the chart below, the raw numbers involved in e-commerce are tiny compared to the retail sector overall.

 20142016Growth
Traditional Retail Roles
(Retail Salesperson, Cashier, Retail Supervisor)
921,435910,792-1%
IT in Retail59,04269,27917%
E-Commerce Skills in Retail19,30925,45532%
E-Commerce Analyst in Retail2,0692,62927%
Warehouse Workers in Retail
(Warehouse Workers, Warehouse Supervisors)
32,09535,53411%

Retail workers have options to move ahead. A natural question is what happens to retail workers when stores close. Retail is often viewed as a dead-end job, but our analysis shows that retail workers can and do move into higher-paying and more sustainable jobs.

Based on our analysis of more than 200,000 resumes in our database, more than two-thirds of early-career retail workers advance to higher-paying occupations within five years of starting in retail, and this increases to 72% in ten years. Those opportunities aren’t necessarily in retail, but they do make use of the skills a retail worker develops, particularly customer service.

Salary gains can be substantial: early-career retail workers see an average salary increase of 70% over entry-level retail salaries within five years of beginning their work in retail. The average advertised salary for entry-level retail jobs is $21,831.

Common next-step transition opportunities for retail workers include:

  • Customer service (e.g. customer service representative)
  • Sales (e.g. sales associate or sales representative)
  • Personal banking (e.g. tellers and personal bankers)
  • Health care (e.g. pharmacy aide)

The fact is that skills acquired in a retail setting have value in a wide range of careers, not just in retail—a critical point for those concerned with the industry’s future.

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