Study: Automation puts millions of U.S. retail jobs at risk
Automation may be mission-critical to operational longevity in the retail industry, but it could be creating a significant pool of “stranded workers.”
Six million to 7.5 million retail jobs likely will be automated out of existence in the coming years, leaving a large portion of the retail workforce at risk of becoming “stranded workers.” Retail cashiers are at highest risk for automation technologies, and women hold 73% of these positions.
That’s according to a new report, “Retail Automation: Stranded Workers? Opportunities and Risks for Labor and Automation,” conducted by Cornerstone Capital Group and commissioned by the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute. The report identifies the structural factors catalyzing change in the retail industry.
The report details the technologies retailers are deploying, looks at the drivers of automation, and provides a framework to analyze the automation strategies of 30 large retail companies. In some cases, technology is complementing labor by freeing workers from mundane tasks and facilitating a more personalized customer experience. In others, technology has the potential to automate a significant part of the sales process and render a range of jobs redundant. Taken together, store closures and technology have the potential to dramatically alter the employment landscape in America.
When it comes to adopting in-store technology, most of the surveyed companies are considering solutions such as mobile devices, self-checkout, digital kiosks and proximity beacons. In addition, sensor-based checkouts and smart shelves are a growing technology, as found in Amazon Go stores.
What many people don’t realize is that 36% of retail workers currently receive some form of public assistance, and the average retail worker is 38 years old. Contrary to perceptions, 71% of retail workers are full-time employees.
The study also indicates that Walmart and other large retailers have greater market share in communities with less than 500,000 people. If employment trends correlate to market share location, retail automation by retailers could disproportionately impact these smaller communities.
“The retail landscape is changing rapidly and investors need to understand the social and governance issues impacting valuations for public companies in this sector,” said Erica Karp, Cornerstone founder and CEO. “Retailers are facing a perfect storm: they need to balance demand for wage increases with the negative optics of future job losses. The winners in retail will be companies that provide recruitment, retention and training for workers and innovate with forward-thinking future store strategies.”
IKEA submits plans for new location
Ikea is looking to expand in presence in North Carolina.
The retailer said it is submitting plans to the Town of Cary, N.C., for a potential Raleigh-area store, which would be the second Ikea location in the state. The proposed 15-acre site would be located adjacent to the existing Cary Towne Center, approximately 12 miles west of downtown Raleigh and two miles from downtown Cary.
This submittal of a development plan allows Cary to formally consider an Ikea-specific use at the location and begin the town council’s review of the proposal for an approximately 359,000-sq.-ft. store and a two-level parking structure with 1,000 parking spaces. If approved, Ikea Cary store could open as early as summer 2020.
“We are excited about the opportunity for a potential second North Carolina Ikea store at this location in Cary,” said Ikea U.S. president Lars Petersson. “A store in the Raleigh area would complement our strong presence established in Charlotte and eventually provide customers in Central and Eastern North Carolina an Ikea store closer to them.”
After town approval, Ikea will evaluate potential on-site power generation to complement the current U.S. renewable energy presence at nearly 90% of its U.S. locations. Other U.S. sustainable efforts include: recycling waste material; building with energy-efficient HVAC and lighting systems, recycled construction materials, warehouse skylights, and water-conserving restrooms; and operationally, eliminating plastic bags from the check-out process, and selling only LED lighting. Ikea U.S. has installed electric vehicle charging stations at 16 locations and solar arrays at 90% of its locations in addition to owning two wind farms in the U.S.