One-third of Amer­i­cans shop on­line once a week

The Washington Post - - ECONOMY & BUSINESS - BY DANIELLE PA­QUE­TTE­que­[email protected]­

More and more Amer­i­cans are em­brac­ing a trend that la­bor groups have come to fear: We are shop­ping on­line now about as of­ten as we take out the trash.

About one-third of adults buy some­thing on a com­puter or phone at least once a week, up from 21 per­cent in 2013, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey from Walker Sands, a con­sult­ing firm that watches e-com­merce trends.

The poll of about 1,600 peo­ple across the coun­try also found that nearly half pre­fer to pur­chase goods on the Web. These days, that in­cludes just about ev­ery­thing: gro­ceries, pre­scrip­tion re­fills, mat­tresses and party dresses. Just 4 per­cent of re­spon­dents said they avoided on­line de­liv­er­ies en­tirely.

“It’s got­ten so easy and con­ve­nient,” said an­a­lyst Erin Jor­dan, who led the re­port. “Peo­ple are get­ting used to that.”

The data builds on find­ings last year from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, which re­ported that 8 in 10 Amer­i­cans shop on­line. When the re­searchers first asked that ques­tion in 2000, only 22 per­cent of re­spon­dents said they had ever or­dered some­thing on a screen.

Since 2000, a whop­ping 46 per­cent of depart­ment store jobs have van­ished, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data. The pace is pick­ing up.

At least 5,300 stores have an­nounced clo­sures this year, which is three times the num­ber over the same pe­riod in 2016, ac­cord­ing to data from Fung Global Re­tail & Tech­nol­ogy, a New York think tank.

Be­tween 2013 and 2017, Amer­ica’s cloth­ing stores lost about 64,000 jobs. From Jan­uary to June, gen­eral mer­chan­dise re­tail­ers, such as Sears and Macy’s, saw 31,000 jobs dis­ap­pear.

These po­si­tions, which pay an av­er­age hourly wage of $13, are dis­pro­por­tion­ately held by women (60 per­cent). They are scat­tered na­tion­wide but tend to con­cen­trate in cities. Though more store clerks have lost their jobs in re­cent years than coal work­ers, re­tail clus­ters don’t eco­nom­i­cally bol­ster spe­cific states the way coal did for West Vir­ginia.

The brick-and-mor­tar de­cline has co­in­cided with an e-com­merce surge. The Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion, a trade group in Wash­ing­ton, ex­pects that on­line re­tail this year will grow be­tween 8 and 12 per­cent, or up to about three times the broader in­dus­try’s rate.

This is not the first time a cul­tural shift has rocked the re­tail world.

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, the rise of malls in sub­ur­bia cre­ated more work in outer-city com­mu­ni­ties but wiped out down­town shop­ping cen­ters. Height­ened in­ter­est in on­line shop­ping is do­ing the same thing to the coun­try’s store­fronts — “only faster,” said Mark Co­hen, di­rec­tor of re­tail stud­ies at Columbia Univer­sity’s busi­ness school.

The trend, Co­hen said, “is in a state of ac­cel­er­a­tion. And the In­ter­net is go­ing to keep grow­ing.”

Older shop­pers are get­ting less skep­ti­cal about typ­ing their credit card num­ber into a ma­chine. And younger gen­er­a­tions, Co­hen added, are adopt­ing voice as­sis­tants, such as Google Home and Ama­zon’s Alexa, that can place the or­ders for them. (Ama­zon. chief ex­ec­u­tive Jef­frey P. Be­zos owns The Wash­ing­ton Post.)

Au­to­ma­tion is also tak­ing a toll. Over the next seven years, ac­cord­ing to the Bu­reau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics, em­ploy­ment of cashiers in the United States is pro­jected to grow 2 per­cent, while the av­er­age for all jobs is ex­pected to in­crease 7 per­cent.

“Ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, such as self-ser­vice check­out stands in re­tail stores and in­creas­ing on­line sales, will con­tinue to limit the need for cashiers,” ac­cord­ing to the bu­reau’s web­site.

Mean­while, peo­ple con­tinue re­motely shop­ping.

Ama­zon re­ported record­break­ing sales from Prime Day, its an­nual shop­ping event. (The com­pany didn’t re­lease hard sales num­bers.)

The United Food and Com­mer­cial Work­ers In­ter­na­tional Union, which rep­re­sents re­tail work­ers, re­leased a state­ment urg­ing buy­ers to “ex­am­ine the high cost of Ama­zon’s busi­ness model.” “Ama­zon’s bru­tal vi­sion for re­tail is one where au­to­ma­tion need­lessly re­places good peo­ple and good jobs,” said Marc Per­rone, the group’s pres­i­dent.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Ama­zon said the com­pany has no plans to au­to­mate ex­ist­ing jobs.

While Ama­zon does em­brace au­to­ma­tion — the com­pany opened a gro­cery store in Seat­tle last year that uses door sen­sors in­stead of cashiers — it em­ploys more than 90,000 full-time work­ers across its ful­fill­ment net­work and aims to cre­ate roughly 25,000 more part-time ware­house jobs by next spring.

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