Why e-commerce creates more jobs
Monday, October 30, 2017 Growth has required new warehouses, delivery system
When the robots came to online retailer Boxed, dread came too: The familiar fear that the machines would take over, leaving a trail of unemployed humans in their wake.
Yet those fears didn’t come to pass. Rather than cutting jobs, the company added a third shift to keep up with rapidly growing demand.
What happened at Boxed suggests that widespread fears about automation and job loss are often misplaced. Automation has actually helped create jobs in e-commerce, rather than eliminate them. By accelerating delivery times, robotics and software have made online shopping an increasingly viable alternative to bricks-andmortar stores, and sales have ballooned at online retailers.
The surge in e-commerce has required the rapid buildout of a vast network of warehouses and delivery systems that include both robots and human workers. Even if the robots replace some people in each warehouse, the proliferation of new warehouses should still generate hiring for years to come.
Jobs have been lost at storefront retailers, which have suffered under the e-commerce onslaught. But worries about a “retail apocalypse’’ wiping out many of the nation’s 16 million retail jobs have missed a more important trend: E-commerce actually leads to more jobs by paying people to do things we used to do ourselves.
When people shop online, tasks that consumers once did — driving to a store, searching through aisles for a product, bringing it to a cashier and paying for it — are now done by warehouse employees and truck drivers. Michael Mandel, an economist at the Progressive Policy Institute, calculates that the number of e-commerce and warehousing jobs has leapt by 400,000 in the past decade, easily offsetting the loss of 140,000 brickand-mortar retail jobs.
Amazon accounts for much of the additional employment. Yet it’s also at the vanguard of automation. Since 2014, Amazon has deployed 100,000 robots in 25 warehouses worldwide. At the same time, it’s nearly tripled its hourly workforce, from roughly 45,000 to nearly 125,000.
Online grocery shopping is also creating more jobs. Walmart is expanding its online grocery pickup service to 2,000 stores, double the 1,000 where it is now available. The company has created a new class of workers — “personal shoppers” — to fill all the orders.
All these trends have been helped by automation’s ability to hold down costs.
And even with automation, there are still jobs at all warehouses for people to do.
Barbara Ward, 56, is a packer at Boxed, and like all her colleagues, she writes a thankyou note for each order she packages.
At Amazon’s warehouse, employees called “stowers” are needed to stock the shelves that are carried by robots. And that requires human judgment: Software suggests to workers where each item should be placed. But it’s an employee’s responsibility to make sure the shelves remain balanced.
Cranes crowd the Montreal skyline as a strong economy and political stability are fuelling a construction frenzy throughout the downtown core and beyond. Although tame by Toronto and Vancouver standards, developers in Canada’s second-largest city are investing billions of dollars in new condominium and office complexes, along with retrofitting older buildings. Mayor Denis Coderre said, “there is right now 150 cranes representing $25 billion of investment in Montreal.’’ He said relatively low condo prices and the lack of a foreign buyers tax make Montreal an attractive place to invest.
CoNstruCtioN boom Developers iNvestiNg iN moNtreAl