Americans aren’t shopping like they used to do, and that is having a great effect on retailers as they try to cope with the added competition posed by online buying and other technology-related changes in the market.
Nobody feels the changes as much as the shelf-stockers, sales personnel, cashiers and others who used to handle things with no competition. They are hustling to address changes in customer behavior and preferences.
Mundane tasks like tracking inventory and checking out customers have been automated and the retailers are trying to capitalize on the thing they do have – direct contact with the buyer.
Sometimes the retailer is interacting in a whole new way. A Best Buy clerk, for instance, may find himself in the customer’s home helping to compare and analyze the choices in electronics. At Walmart, a worker skims the aisles hand-picking products to fill online orders. They will be delivered to the consumer who waits in a car outside the store.
Some advocates for the retail workers believe this may over time mean fewer, but better-paid, employees. As of now, the better pay part of the equation has not been apparent.
With many customers using their electronics to compare prices before making any buying decisions, the nature of in-store selling are changing, Sometimes, a clerk spends time explaining the merchandise, only to have the customer comment, “I’ll buy it online.” Sales people have to work harder to hold their ground.
In 2017, some 66,500 retail jobs disappeared. Some of that loss was made up by hires in accounting jobs in distribution/call centers. The hardest-hit areas of retailing are in clothing and consumer electronics. Department stores have been hardest hit, but many small businesses also are feeling the pinch.
Retailers who survive are scrambling to meet the challenges. The jobs they offer are likely to involve new duties. How these jobs will change depends on three factors: the pace at which online shopping expands; the changes that occur with robotics and shifts in hourly pay. Entry level jobs in retailing will disappear. There will be more pressure to perform. So far, surveys of these personnel show, the pay has not kept pace with the new demands.
Walmart, hustling to meet the Amazon challenge, now has 18,000 personal shoppers with very specific guidelines to do the picking for customers. They have 30 seconds to find an item or, if it is not available, to find a suitable substitute. They report that they come to know the tastes of certain repeat customers and routinely satisfy their shopping desires.
Target stores, too, are training more specialized sales persons in such areas as clothing, consumer electronics and beauty products. They pay them more for the expertise they bring to the job, which results in greater sales.