Jun 11, 2017 - Economy

Who's thriving in the retail bloodbath

We still like to do some of our own chores:

  • Despite the boom in online shopping, Americans still love to pick over and buy their food at brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Americans also like to buy stuff to fix up their homes, and do the work themselves.

These are clear messages from the chart below, researched and created by Axios Visuals Editor Lazaro Gamio. Online shopping's headline hiring is impressive on a percentage basis, soaring by 61% since 2003. But it's still only in the hundreds of thousands. Building materials stores employ 1.1 million workers, and have revitalized in recent years; grocery stores employ 2.7 million workers, a number that grew by almost 9% since 2003.

Data: Occupational Employment Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Why it matters: We are starting to get a clearer picture of which traditional stores might survive the shift to online shopping, and which won't: From May 2003 to May 2016, department stores lost some 295,000 jobs. That's in an industry employing 1.3 million people. But, for policymakers, other industries are stepping in to soak up some of those laid off.

The chart above uses industry-specific data from the Occupational Employment Statistics program within the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each line is the percent change in jobs in a given industry compared with May 2003.

Why we used this data: These numbers vary slightly from the monthly numbers put out by the BLS, which come from the Current Employment Statistics. This survey provides more industry detail — from the best we could tell, the CES lumps in online shopping under "non-store retailers," which includes vending machine operators and direct-selling establishments. In regards to the timeframe, 2003 was the first year in which May data was available, allowing us to compare year to year.

It's not looking good: Both surveys paint a dire picture. The monthly CES data show May 2016 department store employment at 1.3 million, down from 1.6 million in May 2003. The latest CES data — May 2017 — shows 1.27 million people working in department stores, a loss of about 30,000 over the year.

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