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AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File
Retail is going high-tech.
RETAIL WORKER 2.0

The Amazon-ification of retail has triggered a rapid shift in industry hiring

By Michelle Cheng

The idea that every company is a software company now feels especially relevant in retail—and not just at shops like Amazon Go, the experimental, cashier-free retail concept recently started by Amazon.

Amazon Go, which has more than a dozen and a half stores in cities including Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York, currently has more than 100 open job listings for software engineers, optical engineers, hardware-design engineers, and experts in applied sciences. But the rest of the US retail industry is trying to load up on tech talent, too.

The share of tech-related job postings from major US retailers rose from 10% of the chains’ total postings in 2016 to 23% in 2019, according to jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter. The dramatic shift reflects how retail jobs—from the C-level to the entry-level worker—are now requiring some understanding of tech.

The trend accelerated suddenly this year. Julia Pollak, a ZipRecruiter labor economist, says the sharp rise is in large part due to retailers increasing their use of technology within stores, which reduces the demand for traditional workers but increases the demand for tech talent.

The upshot is that the job categories of “tech” and “retail” are becoming harder to separate, Pollak says, leaving retailers to compete with major tech companies for software engineers and app developers.

Interestingly, Pollak found the metro areas where tech roles at retail companies are growing fastest are not in major US tech hubs but in markets like Burlington, Vermont; Lewiston, Maine; Charlottesville, Virginia; Kokomo, Indiana; and Norwich, Connecticut. Many of these markets are growing hubs for e-commerce warehouses.

E-commerce’s share of retail is increasing each year. Online US retail sales have grown by 10% to 15% each year for the past five years, while traditional retail has struggled. According to marketing research firm Coresight Research, more than 9,000 stores across the US have announced store closures this year, and the nation’s retailers have shed 49,000 jobs so far in 2019, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Increasingly, working in retail means working with technology. For instance, employees at Amazon Go stores help shoppers troubleshoot technical problems, while employees at the US electronics chain Best Buy may be asked to visit customers at their place of residence, to offer smart-home consultations. Meanwhile, as retailers continue to find new ways to collect data on their shoppers such as via loyalty programs, there’s been an increased focus on hiring data scientists and cybersecurity experts who can manage and understand this new information.

Still, the changes in retail hiring will be uneven, says David Marcotte, senior vice president of the cross-industry and technology practices at Kantar Consulting. With a tight labor market, as well as an aging workforce, Marcotte says his retail clients are frequently concerned whether older workers will have more trouble adapting to more tech-driven roles. Late adopters or not, the trends indicate “that the use and management of tech inside a store will determine your career path,” Marcotte says.