Retail jobs are disappearing even as the broader economy puts more workers onto the payrolls.
Apparel and accessories specialty stores axed a seasonally 5,500 jobs from January to February, cutting employment in the sector to 1.4 million. Employment at general merchandise stores declined by 19,300 to 3.2 million, including a department store sector decline of 4,700, to 1.3 million.
The decreases ran counter to the broader trend — nonfarm payrolls expanded by 235,000 for the month — but are very much in keeping with the realities of retail, where the rise of e-commerce and changes in shopping preference are remaking the landscape.
More cuts are expected.
Richard Hayne, chief executive officer of Urban Outfitters Inc., recently declared that the retail real estate bubble had burst, much like the housing market bubble before it.
“We are seeing the results, doors shuttering and rents retreating,” he told Wall Street after a tough fourth quarter. “This trend will continue for the foreseeable future and may even accelerate.”
Hayne is looking to combat that by doubling down on digital at Urban Outfitters, noting that web stores are going to be equal partners with brick-and-mortar.
The rise of e-commerce has complicated life for fashion’s financial types, stealing sales from stores (which then have to operate on even thinner margins) and not delivering the same profits given the costs associated with shipping and returns and acquiring traffic online.
Even though the financial path is unclear, retailers see few other paths forward, especially as Amazon continues to take market share in fashion, although primarily in basics for now.
The migration to the web was also reflected in the employment figures with the nonstore retail category hiring 3,200 workers, supporting a total of 553,400 jobs.