Over the past two years, retail sales have outpaced the gross domestic product, and this year, the National Retail Federation has sales pegged to grow between 4.2 and 4.8 percent — which is an upward revision from its prior forecast. But why are recent headlines touting an overall sluggishness in the retail job market?
The answer, according to the NRF, is lousy data.
The NRF said the U.S. Labor Department’s data — 22,000 retail jobs lost in June and a modest 7,000 positions added in July — doesn’t tell the whole picture. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the NRF said the sector “has added more than 65,000 jobs in the last 12 months and retail employment is higher today than it was before the recession.”
Retail jobs are classified under the North American Industry Classification System standard, which the U.S. Census Bureau said is “used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy.” The NAICS system, however, only classifies retail jobs as those that are only in a physical store.
Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the NRF, told WWD last week that “jobs in company headquarters, retail warehouses, fulfillment centers, retail call centers and [factories operated by] retailers are classified as non-retail jobs.”
As previously reported, the growth of online sales and the deployment of omnichannel retail strategies is restructuring the retail industry. Jobs at physical stores, for example, are shifting to fulfillment and distribution centers.
In an industry briefing, the NRF said the NAICS system was implemented in 1997, replacing “an older classification system that was viewed as outdated.”
“When NAICS was introduced, it is estimated that the retail industry lost 8.7 million employees to other industry sectors,” the NRF noted. “NAICS uses a ‘production-based methodology’ to determine how industry employees are allocated across industries. Employees are counted primarily by the function of the building they work in, and secondarily to the sector the business they work for.”
As a result, retail warehouse job listings have gone from 4,200 in 2012 to over 12,300 in 2017, according to the NRF. Additionally, the NRF said higher-wage occupations “that exist outside of store-based locations don’t benefit retail, giving the impression of a low-wage industry.”