Retail Jobs Threatened as Self-Service Grows in Importance

Automation, long a force in agriculture and manufacturing, is accelerating in the retail sector, a trend that could hamper efforts to bring down the nation’s stubbornly high jobless rate. In an industry that employs nearly 1 in 10 Americans and has long been a reliable job generator, companies increasingly are looking to peddle more products with fewer employees., the LA Times reports. Shipping and warehousing workers are being replaced by robots that can process packages more efficiently than humans. Virtual assistants are taking the place of customer service representatives. Kiosks and self-service machines are reducing the need for checkout clerks.

“It’s just like anything else that develops over time, with retail,” says Brentt Arcement, vice president of investor relations for Corona, CA, vending machine firm AVT Inc. “It’s sort of that evolutionary process of what’s next.” Corona is designing a fully automated gas station that will dispense gasoline, snacks, bottled drinks, even hot coffee with the swipe of a credit card — and not a single clerk, an some motorists may not like the concept. After all, these stations won’t have bathrooms. But AVT is betting that some filling station owners will love it. AVT’s smart vending machines don’t demand paychecks, call in sick or give incorrect change. They work 24 hours a day and give instant feedback on sales and inventory.

In January, the U.S. employed 14.5 million retail workers, 1.1 million fewer than in January 2008. Although many of those job losses can be attributed to the Great Recession, experts said lean times have encouraged retailers to rethink their operations and figure out new ways to do more with fewer hands even as the economy improves.

The complete story on how this might more fully impact the economy begins HERE.