Indeed Retail Jobs Tracker: Ecommerce Jobs Begin to Decline
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 third quarter of 2019. Ecommerce had been a bright spot for retail, but saw job declines in August and September, compared to the year before. This is the first consecutive monthly decline in ecommerce jobs since 2010.
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 been sluggish for years, declining faster than the overall retail sector. That trend continued in Q3 2019. But the real news is that nonstore retailers (ecommerce) also saw employment declines.
- Total retail employment through September 2019 fell slightly, registering a –0.4% drop from the year before. While retail jobs rose 9,300 in January, there have been declines every month since, with a cumulative loss of about 19,000 jobs in the third quarter. Job growth in the overall labor market has slowed somewhat, but was still up 1.4% year-over-year in September. However, this growth has not translated into gains for retail.
- The decline in retail is largely driven by brick-and-mortar stores. Brick-and-mortar retail is a category that excludes ecommerce and other nonstore retailers, as well as auto- and gasoline-related stores. By the end of the third quarter of 2019, employment in brick-and-mortar stores had fallen -0.9% 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 12.1 million in September 2019 (see chart below), or 114,000 jobs below the September 2018 level.
- The worst performing brick-and-mortar subindustries seem particularly vulnerable to competition from ecommerce. Jobs in Electronics and Appliance Stores are -5.0% lower, while jobs at Clothing and Clothing Accessories Stores are down -4.0%. Sporting Goods, Hobby, Book, and Music Stores employment is down -1.3% from the year before. 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 September 2019.
- General Merchandise Stores, which includes Walmart, Target, and similar retailers are the second largest category of brick-and-mortar retail. They declined -2.1% year-over-year.
- Furniture and Home Furnishings Stores jobs had solid growth, up 0.5% year-over-year.
Ecommerce and warehousing:
- Ecommerce jobs begin to decline, while warehousing jobs growth is strong but decelerating.
- Employment at Nonstore Retailers — the closest proxy for ecommerce jobs that has up-to-date data — declined -0.9% year-over-year in September 2019. While the sector saw spectacular growth earlier in the recovery, it has posted less-astonishing numbers in recent years. Combined with the -0.3% decline in August, the turn downward in Q3 is noticeable. Nonstore retailers have not had consecutive monthly declines since 2010.
Warehousing jobs are no longer on quite the tear they were enjoying previously. They increased 3.4% year-over-year as of September 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 a year and a half now — from 11.6% year-over-year growth in December 2017 to 7.7% in December 2018. Yet over the same year (2018), overall job growth accelerated. Then, in 2019, both overall and warehousing job growth has been slowing. For warehousing, job growth has more than halved, from 7.6% in January 2019 to 3.4% in September 2019.
Andrew Flowers is an Economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, focusing on the US labor market. Previously he was the quantitative editor and economics writer at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s data-driven news site; and before that, he was an economic analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. As a freelance journalist, he has written for The Economist. He has a B.A. in economics from the University of Chicago.