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State of the Labor Market

Indeed Retail Jobs Tracker: Modest Growth but Still Lagging


The Indeed Hiring Lab tracks employment in the retail industry each quarter, analyzing the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data. As with our previous Indeed Retail Jobs Tracker, we look at the state of traditional retail before diving deeper into “brick and mortar” retail, ecommerce, and warehousing.

Overall, there was modest retail employment growth in Q4 2018. While retail job growth has picked up recently, it’s still not robust. The gap between retail and overall job growth is significant, although it has narrowed slightly. So while retail is slowly improving, it’s still a lagging sector.

“Brick and mortar” employment also ended the year on a high note, but continues to grow slower than the overall retail sector. Ecommerce and warehousing jobs—prime competitors to “brick and mortar” retail—continue to grow more strongly than retail overall but the pace is slowing somewhat.

Retail overview:

  • Total employment in the retail sector through December 2018 was up a modest +0.6% from a year before. While retail job growth was flat in October, there were strong increases of 29,000 and 24,000 retail jobs in November and December, respectively. However, retail employment continues to grow slower than overall job growth (+1.8% over the past year).
  • By the end of Q4 2018, employment in “brick and mortar” retail stores was up slightly year-over-year. Brick and mortar retail excludes nonstore (or ecommerce) retailers, as well as auto-related stores.
    • Brick and mortar retail employment rose slightly from a year before (+0.3% year-over-year), as of December 2018.
    • Brick and mortar retail employment stood at nearly 12.4 million in December 2018 (see chart below), or about 33,000 jobs above the level from December 2017.

  • The worst performing sub-industries in the retail sector seem particularly exposed to competition from ecommerce: “Sporting Goods, Hobby, Book, and Music Stores” jobs are down 11.2% from a year before, while “Electronics and Appliance Stores” jobs are 3.7% lower. Both sub-industries’ declines are accelerating.
    • “General Merchandise Stores” — like Walmart, Target and similar retailers — make up the largest share of brick-and-mortar employment and rose strongly in November and December. General merchandise store jobs were up 2.4% year-over-year in December 2018, making it the fastest-growing sub-industry.
    • “Food and Beverage Stores” are close behind as the second-largest sub-industry and employment grew 0.5% year-over-year.
    • “Furniture and Home Furnishings Stores” jobs grew steadily, up 1.9% year-over-year, and “Building Material and Garden Supply Stores” jobs were up 0.4% over the past year. One explanation for the growth in these sub-industries is that they are less vulnerable to ecommerce competition given the types of the goods they sell.

Ecommerce and warehousing:

  • Ecommerce and warehousing jobs are growing briskly, although the rate is slowing for both types of jobs. We don’t have up-to-date data on ecommerce; the latest reading is for Q2 2018. In that quarter, ecommerce jobs rose 4.9% compared to Q2 2017. This is a slight slowdown from 5.5% year-over-year growth in Q1 2018.
  • Warehousing jobs increased 5.2% year-over-year as of December 2018, a slowdown from a peak of 13.6% growth in December 2015 but were steadily increasing throughout 2018.