E-commerce doesn’t deserve the reputation as a job-killing bogeyman given to it by some in the retail industry. In fact, e-commerce creates new opportunities and careers for American workers almost every day.
Doom and gloom headlines decry e-commerce’s impact on jobs in communities throughout the U.S. as the number of traditional retail jobs shrink. What the media and some economic “experts” are missing, however, is the fact that e-commerce is creating jobs, and, in fact, has created more jobs than it has eliminated. E-commerce staffing agencies can help retail professionals retool and find these exciting new career opportunities.
Online Retail’s Growing Power
From humble roots in the early 2000s, e-commerce has grown to become a major driver of the U.S. and world economy. E-commerce retail sales were around $5.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 1999 and accounted for just .064 percent of the $821.2 billion in total retail sales in the U.S. that year. In the fourth quarter of 2016, e-commerce accounted for $105 billion, or 8.5 percent of total retail sales of more than $1.2 trillion.
The growth in e-commerce will only continue to accelerate as a generation of consumers raised on online shopping enters its prime earning years and as improving technology makes online commerce easier and more convenient. Mobile technology is a huge driver in e-commerce’s continued growth, as more and more consumers become enamored with the ease of shopping anywhere from their handheld devices. Early experiments with drone technology also show promise, as the quick delivery these devices could provide will make fulfillment of orders faster and more convenient for consumers.
The National Retail Federation expects online retail to grow 8 to 12 percent in 2017, as compared to a 2.8 percent growth rate for brick-and-mortar retail sales.
It’s not just sales figures that are taking off in e-commerce. Online buying and selling also fuel growth in the job market. According to Forbes magazine, online retail has created 355,000 new jobs in the past decade, including jobs in warehouses and fulfillment centers. Online retailing has been one of the strongest job-creating segments of the U.S. economy, creating new jobs even in the depths of the Great Recession.
There’s no doubt that e-commerce and other economic factors have affected employment at traditional brick and mortar retail shops. According to Forbes, about 51,000 jobs were lost between 2007 and 2017 in the general retail sector, which includes jobs in physical retail stores. This includes department stores, electronics stores, music stores, bookstores, sporting good stores, and more.
However, when stacked up against the number of jobs created by e-commerce, the numbers show that the employment gains created by online buying and selling far outstrip the jobs eliminated.
Online retail isn’t just creating jobs, it’s also creating higher-paying jobs than its brick-and-mortar cousin. Forbes says that production and non-supervisory workers in e-commerce, including those in warehouses and fulfillment centers, earn an average of about $17.41 per hour. That’s 26 percent more than the average salary of $13.83 per hour for similar positions in general retail.
Wage and salary payments to workers in online retail have increased by around $18 billion in the past decade, compared to wage and salary growth of about $1 billion in general retail. Figures also show that wage growth in online retail is spread out throughout the country, with wages rising in even some of the poorest U.S. states.
New Careers in E-Commerce
Jobs in online retail aren’t the same as those in general retail and many require an entirely different skill set from traditional retail jobs. Here are a few examples of jobs available in online retail:
- Social media marketing – Social media has a huge impact in both traditional and online stores. Online commerce sites need social media marketing experts skilled at finding the most effective ways of promoting products and brands on Facebook, Snap, Twitter, and other platforms. Copywriters and photographers are also highly necessary to these efforts.
- Buyers – Online retailers still have to do a lot of the tasks involved with traditional retailing, such as striking deals with designers and manufacturers. Buyers are still needed to discern the value of products and make agreements favorable to the retailers.
- Customer service reps – Sometimes consumers have questions about products that an online description just can’t answer. Many e-commerce sites realize this and have hired customer service reps that can interact with consumers online or via chat applications. These representatives fulfill many of the roles taken by in-store sales staff and must be effective communicators and storytellers.
- IT – Predictably, there’s a big demand for information technology jobs in the online commerce industry. Keeping online shopping sites up and secure is important, as downtime means lost opportunities for sales, and security breaches can cause legal liability and great customer dissatisfaction. In online retail, there is a huge demand for software engineers, mobile web developers, security experts, network engineers, and traditional IT support staff.
- Fulfillment center jobs – As online retailers like Amazon grow, they are opening fulfillment centers around the country to conveniently stockpile goods in local communities to better facilitate their quick delivery to customers. These facilities are providing jobs and opportunity to communities that may have been negatively impacted by the decline of traditional retail jobs. Fulfillment centers offer jobs as pickers and stockers that are accessible to low-skilled workers. Within the fulfillment center environment, there are opportunities for motivated employees to gain skills and experience to move up to better-paying supervisory roles.
Workers concerned about e-commerce’s impact on the retail industry should focus on two things that can help secure their prospects in the new order: education and networking. By staying abreast of trends in the industry and re-tooling their skills for jobs in the e-commerce world, retail professionals become better prepared to roll with the changes.
Networking also helps, as personal networks are critical to learning about employment opportunities and getting one’s foot in the door with hiring managers. E-commerce staffing agencies can also help qualified workers with the right skills find great jobs in the industry.
Great changes in the economy are always scary, as they disrupt careers and ways of life that may have existed for generations. History has shown us that these disruptions are beneficial in the long run, however, as they create higher standards of living and wider opportunities for men and women.
The e-commerce revolution will be no different. When historians look back upon this era, they will find it very similar to other great disruptions that paved the way for greater economic opportunities, such as industrialization in the 1800s and the rise of the computers in the late 20th century.
Established 15 years ago, The Fashion Network matches top talent with fashion and retail companies. These e-commerce fashion industry recruiters find qualified candidates that meet the specific needs of its clients, whether they’re looking for sales staff, designers, buyers, or top executives. Primarily focused on New York, the firm also serves clients in England, Germany, Switzerland, China, South Korea, Spain, Holland, and Australia.