The future of jobs: As shopping changes, the nature of retail jobs is changing dramatically
âBad for sellers, good for buyers. This is the obvious deduction from the upheaval in the retail trade leaving malls and shopping streetsâ¦ â, says The Economist (March 13, 2021). The article goes on to admit that this may be an oversimplification of the retail crisis and how consumers will continue to seek human attention and help when they shop. purchases.
The bigger question, however, is âwill retail jobs be totally goneâ? Or will they become more complex and nuanced?
When the Indian economy opened up in the late 1990s and car brands began to flood the market, one of the high paying jobs this created was direct customer contact work at a automotive retailer. These well-dressed men and the occasional women were often graduates with a good knowledge of multiple languages ââand automotive engineering / performance factors. Dealer salespeople, as they were called, had to be prepared to answer all kinds of multiple questions from the showroom visitor, often a first-time car buyer.
But in 2010, the scenario changed dramatically. The Indian car buyer was then better informed to the extent that dealer sellers even dispensed with knowing and explaining the different features of each model or variant. Why? Because they were sure the car buyer would have done their research on the Internet before bothering to walk into a showroom.
Which, in turn, led to new challenges. The dealership salesperson had to become digitally savvy to use a handheld device to guide the customer through the car’s special features. Often times, the dealership salesperson had to make sure that they captured the views of the potential customer to get sent back to the manufacturer. All of this was not done post-facto, but while the customer was testing the car.
The role played by the car salesman has changed considerably. Some elements have disappeared but new elements have been added.
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The retail sector is one of the biggest job creators of any economy. Some studies indicate that the Indian retail sector contributes up to 22% of the country’s GDP, although the Indian government’s employment information portal estimates that the contribution of retail to GDP is more modest. by 10%. In terms of employment, all estimates indicate that jobs in retail trade represent 8% of total employment. This estimate appears to be lower since one in six workers in the EU is employed in retail or wholesale and in the United States one in nine jobs is in the retail sector. Even if we assume that the Indian retail sector contributes only 8% of the overall employment pool, it remains one of the largest employers.
Dumbed down, or hi-tech
Today, after the COVID pandemic, this statistic is under great threat. Where do the threats come from?
First, consumers are now adopting an omnichannel approach to their purchases. Either they search online and shop offline. Or they research and experiment offline and buy online. The main case is when a consumer visits an electronics store to get a tactile feel of the mobile phone and then purchases it online.
Consumers are much more informed today than they were ten years ago. And it’s going to place serious demands on retail jobs and consumers.
The rise of e-commerce has created a huge challenge for traditional retailers. Many had to rush to go omnichannel during the pandemic to the point of being shocked at the type of response they received. A luxury watch retailer was amazed that consumers were willing to order a watch costing thousands of rupees, pay the amount and wait a week for delivery to take place.
Some brands now decide to go entirely to “DTC”, or directly to the consumer. Either through their own website or through e-commerce platforms. For example, Nike, a global brand, actively embraces the DTC mantra. They were able to transfer 40% of their income to DTC, thus eliminating all middlemen.
These trends have serious implications for young men and women seeking retail jobs. Will retail as we have known it disappear? Or will it be completely reinvented in the coming decade?
Dorothy Davis in the book “A History of Shopping” traces the emergence of stores to the Elizabethan era, when artisans who had an individual relationship with customers set up their stores to peddle other people’s products, earning a profit margin. Then came the Industrial Revolution which led to a major transformation in retailing as an increasing number of working class citizens could now purchase quality products. This has been supported by the growth of advertising.
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The next revolution has been the ongoing and evolving digital movement, with a marked transfer of power first from the manufacturer to the retailer and now significantly to the consumer.
As we see more and more products being sold through e-commerce, nationally, they only make up a small percentage (less than 5%) of consumer goods sales. The contribution of e-commerce is much higher in certain segments such as luxury goods, fashion clothing and electronics [a luxury car brand recently confessed that 5% of their sales happened without the customer visiting a car showroom].
But there are some aberrations in this general picture. Euromonitor has estimated that online sales of diapers in India will reach 25% by 2023. In China, more than half of pet food is sold online, compared to about a tenth elsewhere, according to The Economist. [March 13, 2021].
So what will happen to retail jobs? Are they going to let themselves down or become high-tech? The answer is “it depends”.
Shopping offers many experiences. An article from the Journal of Advertising Research [June 2018] listed eight reasons to visit a mall. It was about getting away from it all, browsing, socializing, being active, shopping for clothes, uniqueness, service and aesthetics.
As you can see, only one of the eight is âshoppingâ. And savvy retail marketers have been made aware of the many reasons a customer will walk into a mall. And while they may come in to just ‘browse’, they can end up ‘shopping’ if they get the right nudge. Upscale shopping centers are masters in the art of creating events to attract and engage their customers. It can be musical performances, dance performances or even a book talk [I was invited by an upmarket mall in Bangalore to deliver a book talk in the central atrium; I was surprised to see a fairly good gathering].
The nature of retail jobs will therefore change and the change will vary with each industry. However, the only change that will be common to all sectors will be the increasing use of digital tools. So, whatever point of sale you want to work in, you will need to be proficient in using a keyboard or smartphone to interact with your customers and also collect customer information.
While this is normal in all industries, we could see the emergence of other new types of jobs in retail.
Your shopping history in his palm
If we take the high-end retail professions such as luxury brands or fashion, the professions will experience a significant change with the emergence of advisers and not just sales assistants. If you walk into a fashion store, you might want some advice on which top will go with which bottom. And if the seller can pull out a notepad and show you the combination options, there’s a good chance you’re ready to buy. If the seller is only willing to show you the âlast daysâ instead, you can skip the âBuyâ step.
An example of this new concept of buying assistant and adviser is Reliance’s Eve project, an experiment that attempts to create a unique fashion clothing shopping experience for high-end Indian women aged 25-40. . Its outlet in a high-end mall, for example, has frames that can help the consumer make the right choice for the right occasion, and also organize products according to body shape, etc.
The retail industry has traditionally offered many employment options including customer salespeople, floor manager, store manager, retail operations, retail merchandising, visual merchandising , back-end operations, etc. In addition to these, the coming decade will see the deployment of new digital tools to improve the customer experience.
You walk into this store in Westside, for example. As you walk towards the women’s kurti section, the floor manager walks up to you and says, âWelcome Mrs. Gopal. Hope to see you again in our store. Hope you liked what you bought from us last month. The top is mauve. We now have a new collection of pure linen pants. Would you try them?”.
How did it happen? Technology makes this possible. The camera at the store entrance will capture your facial profile. The algorithm matches your face to Westside’s regular customer database, and the floor manager receives an alert on her notepad. With some additional information about your past purchase. If you think this is a scene from the Minority Report movie, you are wrong. This is happening as we speak.
If many retailers adopt such technologies, it will create a whole new range of upstream and downstream jobs. Cameras will need to be installed and maintained. Data must be entered on all repeat customers. Algorithms need to be developed to learn from customer images and figure out how to match in seconds. This would mean that while store-level staff may decline to match traffic, back-end retail jobs are going to explode. New skills will be required.
And with initial data from India’s retail sector employing 8% of all workers, that number will not decrease but will increase. What will also happen is the diversity of jobs that will emerge in retail. Especially since retailers are adopting an omnichannel approach with all the complexity that this implies. While the majority of jobs may still be direct customer-facing positions, employment opportunities will experience a seismic change in many ways, creating new types of jobs not seen until ten years ago.