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Indeed Retail Jobs Tracker: Retail’s Steady Decline Continues

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The Indeed Hiring Lab tracks employment in the retail industry each quarter, analyzing the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data. We look at the state of traditional retail and then dive deeper into brick-and-mortar retail, ecommerce, and warehousing.

Overall retail employment dropped modestly year-over-year in the second quarter of 2019. Retail jobs had stabilized somewhat in the second half of 2018 following a pronounced decline beginning in 2017. But by early 2019, employment in the sector was once again falling. The gap between retail and overall job growth has been roughly constant at 1.8 percentage points since mid-2017

Brick-and-mortar retail employment has done even worse, declining faster than the overall retail sector. Ecommerce and warehousing jobs — prime competitors of brick-and-mortar retail — continue to grow more strongly than retail jobs overall, but the pace is slowing. 

Retail overview:

  • Total retail employment through June 2019 fell slightly, registering a –0.3% drop from the year before. While retail jobs rose 9,000 in January, there have been declines every month since, with a cumulative loss of about 28,000 jobs in the second quarter. Job growth in the overall labor market has slowed somewhat, but was still up 1.5% year-over-year in June. However, this growth has not translated into gains for retail. 
  • The decline in retail is about brick-and-mortar stores, a category excluding ecommerce and other nonstore retailers, as well as auto- and gasoline-related stores. By the end of the second quarter of 2019, employment in traditional stores had fallen -0.8% year-over-year. 
    • Brick-and-mortar retail jobs seemed to be recovering late last year, but revisions to prior months data now show year-over-year declines every month since June 2018. Declines have accelerated somewhat since January 2019.
    • Brick-and-mortar retail employment stood at nearly 12.2 million in June 2019 (see chart below), or 104,000 jobs below the June 2018 level.
  • The worst performing brick-and-mortar subindustries seem particularly vulnerable to competition from ecommerce. Jobs in the Sporting Goods, Hobby, Book, and Music Stores category are down -5.8% from the year before, while Electronics and Appliance Stores jobs are -4.7% lower. Books and electronics are quintessential goods sold by Amazon and other ecommerce companies.
    • Conversely, the Food and Beverage Stores category has become the largest source of brick-and-mortar employment, growing 1.4% year-over-year in June 2019.
    • General Merchandise Stores like Walmart, Target, and similar retailers are the second largest category of brick-and-mortar retail. They declined –1.0% year-over-year. 
    • Employment was also weak at Clothing and Clothing Accessories Stores, down -3.4% year-over-year.
    • Furniture and Home Furnishings Stores jobs had solid growth, up 1.1% year-over-year.

Ecommerce and warehousing:

  • Ecommerce and warehousing jobs are growing steadily, although the rate is slowing for both types of jobs compared with a few years ago. 
    • Employment at Nonstore Retailers — the closest proxy for ecommerce jobs that has up-to-date data — rose 1.5% year-over-year in June 2019. While the sector saw spectacular growth earlier in the recovery, it has posted less-astonishing numbers in recent years. 
    • Warehousing jobs are no longer on quite the tear they were enjoying previously. They increased 4.7% year-over-year as of June 2019, a slowdown from their recent peak of 13.3% growth in March 2018. Growth in this sector, while still substantial, has been decelerating steadily for over a year now. Nonetheless, the cumulative growth of warehouse jobs has been stronger than nonstore retailers and most other industries.
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