Retail sales just notched their best month since 2012 and the industry has added almost one million jobs since 2010. But the rosy headline stats obscure a more complex and potentially troubling story in retail—particularly for its employees.
The business of selling stuff is becoming much more efficient. Sales-per-employee have gone from $12,00 to $25,000 in the last two decades. That means that even as consumers spend more, we need fewer workers to stock shelves and process orders.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
As ingeniously self-deprecating as RadioShack’s Super Bowl commercial was, its finances are sadly even more proficient at making a mockery of the company. Shares fell by a delirious 24 percent after holiday sales came in way under its (already managed) expectations. Today the company announced that it will be closing 1,100 stores, leaving it with 4,000 brick-and-mortar locations in the U.S.
(Aside: How in the world are there still 5,000 RadioShacks? That’s three times more than Chipotle.)
RadioShack’s long slide coincides the steep ascendance of Amazon as America’s great brick-and-mortar destroyer. In 2003, Amazon and RadioShack each had about $5 billion in sales, as WSJ business editor Dennis Berman pointed out. Last year, Amazon had $75 billion to RadioShack’s $3.5 billion.
Some further comparison is illuminating: At the end of 2013, RadioShack had 5,000 brick-and-mortar stores with 27,500 employees and $3.5 billion in sales, which is $127,000 in sales per employee. Its website is the 1,066th most popular in the world. At the end of 2013, Amazon had zero brick-and-mortar stores with 117,300 employees (full- and part-time) and $75 billion in sales, which is $640,000 in sales per employee. Its website is the 5th most popular in the world.
What are people still buying at RadioShack?
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
About a month ago, a UPS store in eastern San Diego started offering a new service: 3D printing. Six weeks ago, store owner Burke Jones says, “I didn’t know anything about 3D printing.”
"I’d love to take credit for the idea because it’s been really successful, but the truth is UPS came up with it," he adds. "They wanted to test the market." Last week, UPS rolled out another 3D printer, at a shop in Northwest DC, and it plans to open up four more over the next few months, at locations that have yet to be finalized.
Since the printer arrived at his store (a uPrint SE Plus), Jones has faced a pretty steep learning curve, he says, experimenting with the technology right alongside his clientele, who range from basement tinkerers looking to test some far-fetched idea to big businesses whose engineers just need to prototype something quickly and the company’s equipment is otherwise occupied. Those are the easy jobs, Jones says, “They call us up and say I have an STS file and I need to print three of them.” No problem.
Read more. [Image: UPS]
Zara stores cozy up to the most famous brands in the world to sing their luxury ambitions even as they profit off a brilliant, cheap, short supply chain that delivers similar fashion at a much lower price.
Supply chains sounds boring. But they’re the secret to Zara’s success. Rather than ship skirts and dresses from Chinese plants where they arrive in-store after the style has peaked, Inditex (the parent company) makes the bulk of its clothes in Spain and Morocco. A hemline suggestion goes from a customer’s lips to a sales rack at record speed. The company, now the largest fashion retailer on earth, has grown overall sales by about 50% in five years to $17.5 billion. Its employees have gone from 80,000 to 110,000 in that time, despite being headquartered in a depressed Spanish economy, and selling predominantly to a very sick European continent.
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Hey, there’s something you should know about the end of retail: It’s not really the end of retail. […]
Here’s what I see: Manufacturing’s in a free fall. Even its recent recovery — 400,000 new jobs in two years — has done little more than stabilize the sector around 9%. Agriculture has ducked under 2%. Health/education has doubled to 15%. And retail? Its share of jobs is remarkably thermostatic. Three decades ago, retail was 11% of the economy. Today, it’s … 11% of the economy.
When you deal with supersectors, you tend to lump a lot of important small numbers together. “Retail” isn’t one big store. It’s millions of stores in hundreds of categories, from pet food to jewelry to tire dealers. But let’s start to get specific.
Retail’s three largest sub-sectors — supermarkets, department stores, and warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club that sell in bulk — account for a third of retail workers. These are three very different species of retail, and they’re going in very different directions.
Read more. [Image: Economic Modeling Specialists]
Surveillance technology isn’t just for the FBI and local law enforcement. Corporations see all kinds of potential for combining cheap recording equipment with other types of data collection.
For example, fast food joints, or “quick service restaurants,” as they are known in the trade, lose up to seven percent of sales to employee theft, according to the National Restaurant Association. Now, these retailers are fighting back with surveillance systems that allow them to keep track of their employees every move and punch of the register. Already, 90 percent of retailers monitor their staffs with video cameras, but combining the visuals with data from the register makes these systems much more powerful. […]
All those little things that retail employees do? They’re open to algorithmic and video inspection. It’s a bad time to be an immature teenager working at Dunkin Donuts.
There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. Of course companies want to reduce the number of employees who steal from them. But some part of me squirms at this pervasive and increasingly intelligent monitoring. Would I really want my boss to have always-on recordings not just of my body but my keystrokes? Would you?
Read more. [Image: Megan Garber]