Evolution, Not Revolution: What Retail Apocalypse?

By / 7.10.2017

When I was young, oh so many years ago, my parents would take me shopping at Korvette’s, a chain of discount department stores originally based in New York City. But alas, Korvette’s went bankrupt in 1980, just one of hundreds of names on Wikipedia’s long list of defunct department stores. Then, of course, Wikipedia has an equally long list of defunct retailers of the United States, including such stalwarts as Robert Hall (whose jingle is still stuck in my mind*).

Now, of course, we have apparently entered the era of the “retail apocalypse,” a newly minted calamity which has its own Wikipedia entry. Suddenly all of our shopping malls and big box stores are supposed to disappear, washed away by the ever-rising tide of ecommerce.

But at least so far, the data shows very little signs of an apocalypse. According to the latest BLS employment report, employment at brick-and-mortar retail is down by only 7,000 jobs over the past year, a mere rounding error for an industry that employs over 15 million workers. At the same time, employment in the ecommerce sector has rise by 61,000 over the past year, more than making up for any erosion in brick-and-mortar retail.

Indeed, if we look at three month averages, brick-and-mortar retail looks more or less flat. Job losses in some retail sectors, such as general merchandise and clothing stores, is being partly offset by employment gains in motor vehicles, auto parts, building materials, and health stores. Companies announce store closings, hoping to get a better deal out of landlords–but for the same reason, stores that are doing well don’t announce that they are expanding.

So far this looks like an evolution rather than a revolution: Some retailers are closing, while others (including online sellers) are expanding. The big news is that fulfillment centers pay 30-40% more than brick-and-mortar jobs in the same area. But more about that in another post.


*”Where the values go up, up ,up

And the prices go down, down, down

Robert Hall will show you

The reason they give you

High quality, economy!”