Last month, iQmetrix Retail Summit alumnus Doug Stephens posted an interesting blog post on how careers in retail have changed, and in some respects, are going extinct.
He recalls hearing Walmart U.S. President Bill Simon talk at NRF back in January, saying "retail was still a great career to embark on. He reflected on his own career path, and that he put himself through college on the $2.00 an hour he earned as a young man, implying that today's young retail worker should be able to do the same."
Walmart president says retail is a great career path; a few weeks later, the company announces plans to add 10,000 self-checkout lanes.
Stephens said it all sounded so nostalgic and inspiring, and yet the naked truth is that cashiers won't become executives:
"A little more than a month after Mr. Simon’s talk, however, Walmart announced that it was adding 10,000 self-checkout lanes in its stores in 2013. Why? Well according to Walmart’s own figures, every second of delay in the checkout aisle amounts to nearly 12 million dollars in cashier payroll."
And Stephens just posted an update to this article, noting that yesterday (April 24), hundreds of McDonald's, Macy's and Victoria's Secret workers (among others) walked off the job in Chicago to protest what they cite as impossibly low wages.
Hundreds of McDonald's, Macy's and Victoria's Secret workers walked off the job in Chicago yesterday to protest low wages.
This article reminded me of one we blogged about last summer, about how even employees at the most profitable retailer (in terms of sales per square foot) in the world, the Apple store, are woefully underpaid. And do those people have any chance of working for Apple head office and moving their way up the corporate ladder? Not likely. At least not as likely as the possbility may have been 50 or 60 years ago -- and that's the point Stephens is trying to make.
The era of expendable retail workers is over.
Stephens points to a greater trend in retail, that "digital, mobile, virtual and robotic technologies" like the self-checkout lanes being introduced at a Walmart near you -- make the human salesperson and cashier more expendable than ever.
Stephens, however, isn't all doom and gloom. He says there's a bright side. There's a market for talented, creative and remarkable retail employees, for "true brand ambassadors."
He says retailers like REI, The Container Store, Sephora and Bloomingdale's understand the need for these types of retail professionals. "It's the end of the era in which retail workers are paid to punch buttons, enter number and count widgets and no amount of nostalgia will reverse that," he writes. "The age of the Brand Ambassador has just begun."