News Feature | April 19, 2017

Retail Sector Takes A Hard Hit With Job Losses And Store Closings

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Retail Tech Tools

Retailers are moving online and battling for key employees to respond to consumer demands.

The retail sector is at a turning point, and it is taking drastic measures to respond to customer demands and keep its margins profitable. While it is easy to believe the claims that retail is dead or dying, but what is really occurring is a massive industry-wide transformation, where e-commerce is becoming a major sales channel that can only grow at a rapid rate. And as shoppers turn online, the massive “overstoring” of the United States is becoming increasingly obvious. Retailers are scrambling to match the shopping landscape to their customers’ needs. Not only is the list of stores closing growing exponentially, the retail industry also lost 29,700 jobs in the month of March, following a 30,900 loss in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"I have said this before, but America is still over-stored," Macy's long-time Chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren told TheStreet in a January interview. "My guess is that some rationalization of retail space needs to occur, and I think we were at the forefront of acknowledging that," Lundgren continued, adding that while the online business for Macy's is "booming" it hasn't been enough to offset weak traffic to physical stores. 

But the challenge for retailers is not just to match their physical store spaces with their clientele, but also to attract and retain quality employees to staff them.  As Jason Walker, President of workforce management platform supplier Deputy,  explained to Innovative Retail Technologies in an email: "The war for top talent requires exceptional work place environments, including giving people the right tools for the job at hand.  This includes technologies offering advanced training and education, mobile technologies to give retail sales people tools on the floor to answer questions from customers and insights into their behaviors to schedule them for customer coverage taking their preferences into account on their work/life balance.  Retail sales people have a choice in where and when they work, so offering an exceptional experience is required to have the best retail sales people representing your brand.”

In fact, Walker states, “With labor being the most expensive cost in retail (in addition to real estate), leveraging predictive technology to forecast sales by hour (or minute), and taking conditions like weather into account to optimizing investments to ensure that you have the right people on the retail floor to support customers and not too many where people are idle....optimization and finding the right intersection point for coverage is required in 2017 to drive a profitable retailer when competing with commerce.” 

Thus, according to Walker, “Offering exceptional service at the last 3 feet of the sale (retail floor) requires engaged, compelling people who can offer insights, empathy and make something complex, simple to help customers with their overall experience....and giving retail sales people the tools, technology and training to make that come to life are critical in brick and mortar retail if they have any hope of competing with online stores."