Black Friday: The Workers Perspective
Have you set your alarm yet? Do you have a countdown going? Have you scoured the ads and planned your strategy? What are you waiting for! Black Friday is almost here! Dreaded by some and celebrated by others, Holiday Shopping is the epitome of consumerism and commercialism. Doorbusters seem to bring out the worst in some people. How many fights will break out over the amazing doorbusters at Walmart this year?
I pity the retail workers scheduled to work on Black Friday. Their stories are legendary. Workers have been trampled by customers, sprayed with mace, screamed at, witnessed fistfights and wrestling matches, and are spit upon. What gets into these people?
Stagnant Wage Growth
When you look at the stagnant wage growth many workers have experienced over the last 20 years, it is no wonder people will go to extraordinary lengths to get the best gift for the best price. All year long advertisers bombard us with the message that we need the latest phone, tv, car, toy, and other things that for many are unaffordable. Television shows depict the perfect life and reality shows from HGTV show us how we can have our dream home. If only it was as easy as they make it look!
Who can blame people for wanting to give the best gift possible? After all, this may be the only time of year when the item is affordable. Black Friday may be their only chance to get that special gift that Johnny or Sally asked Santa to bring.
The Future of Retail Work and Pay
Almost 16 million people work in Retail; the largest industry by employment. Pay varies greatly from store to store ranging from minimum wage to around $12 an hour. A November 2017 article on cnbc.com lists the pay at 19 major retailers for a sales associate. At that time, Costco sales associates averaged $12.92 an hour.
Retail is often the first place high school graduates start looking for a job. It is an entry-level position with a chance for advancement. Unfortunately, store closings and online shopping continue to change the retail landscape. In the meantime, brick and mortar stores are struggling to adapt to the competition from Amazon. The use of automation such as self-checkouts has also reduced the need for workers. Check out my previous blog post to learn more about automation at the checkout counter.
Over 80 percent of workers in the retail industry do not have college degrees, and over half lack any post-secondary education.
Some sources point out that as automation and online shopping continue to increase, workers will shift from the sales floor to the warehouse environment. Meanwhile, customers are increasingly looking for ways to complete purchases without interacting with another person. Will retail jobs decline in much the same way as manufacturing jobs have? According to an Aspen Institute Report, since January 2017 the retail industry has lost 101,100 jobs. The future is uncertain and we should be concerned about the type and pay of jobs available to young people.
Somebody Has to Buy All This Stuff!
So what’s the point? Millions of people work in Retail and most are not earning enough to keep up with inflation. Changes occurring within the industry mean fewer jobs. Our consumer-driven economy requires a large population of shoppers to keep it growing. A vicious circle ensues in which the segments of the population we depend on to keep buying stuff, can’t afford to. In addition, companies only hire workers when they need them and many have turned to temporary or contract workers rather than full-time employees. As manufacturers streamline the production process using automation and technology, more and more goods are produced with fewer workers forcing many into lower paying jobs. Despite fewer employees, companies continue to increase production. Who will buy the products? The robots?
UPS and FedEx will ship over a billion packages between Black Friday and Christmas Day!
For more on the human cost of online shopping, check out this article from Vox –
Thank a Retail Worker
This holiday season, take time to thank a retail worker for making sure the gifts you want are in the store or delivered to your home. Meanwhile, please remember that many of the workers you encounter are temporary and are doing their best to serve you with little experience and training. These workers will not rest until the Holidays are over and many will work overtime processing the many returns that flood into the stores afterward.
Share your retail story in the comments.