Retailers are among the top five U.S. industries cutting the highest number of jobs mid-way through the year, according to a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
Between January and July, 43,618 retail jobs were lost, down from 47,762 in the same period last year, according to the report. Across industries, layoffs accelerated in the past three months, with 30,157 jobs lost in May; 38,536 jobs lost in June; and 43,618 jobs lost in July.
But the pace has decidedly eased since last year: July job cuts were less than half of what they were in the year ago period, when 105,696 jobs were cut, exacerbated by a large number of military positions lost to budget reductions.
The five sectors seeing the greatest number of job losses—retail, energy, computer, industrial goods and financial—are facing major upheaval. A host of factors are roiling the retail industry, from the rise of e-commerce and the significant speed-up of delivery and fulfillment to changing consumer tastes and priorities, some of them hung over from the careful spending habits of the Great Recession.
"The traditional retail industry in some respects is facing Armageddon,” Mark Cohen, professor and director of retail studies at Columbia Business School, told CNN Money. “There were far too many stores built.” Macy’s is doing its part to correct that, announcing Thursday that it would close another 100 stores nationwide. In a statement announcing the move, Macy’s president and CEO-in-waiting Jeff Gennette mentioned the shuttering of stores signifies a philosophical change in the role of its stores.
Bankruptcies have also taken their toll this year, with Sports Authority shuttering all stores and teen retailer Aeropostale facing a similar fate, though an investor specializing in distressing properties may step in to keep some 500 stores open, saving thousands of jobs.
Many retailers have resorted to price competition to drive foot traffic and best their competitors, slicing margins thin, leaving less in the bank for payroll. Still, some retailers are finding a way to thrive. Amazon, for one, posted a record quarter recently, and is known for its high-paying jobs, with good benefits. In addition, the U.S. Commerce Department notes retailers have added almost 200,000 jobs so far this year, according to CNN Money. That includes not only e-commerce retailers (almost 15,000 jobs added), but also furniture and home furnishings retailers (almost 17,000) and electronics store retailers (4,500 jobs).
And,while self-service checkout and other technologies are changing the role of many retail workers, employees are not best viewed as retailer's biggest costs, says Brett Wickard, founder and president of “lean retail” software solutions firm FieldStack. “The right employees are your greatest asset," he told Retail Dive earlier this year. "[They are] absolutely an investment in your organization.”