General Consumer Products

General Consumer Products

Industry Outlook

The health of the general consumer products industry depends largely on the strength of the American economy. If the economy is weak, Americans are less likely to spend money on high-end consumer goods such as cars and high-end electronics. If the economy is strong, Americans are more likely to purchase goods in every category. On the other hand, people purchase some goods, such as clothing or food, regardless of the state of the economy—although in a weak economy, consumers are more likely to patronize “big box” stores and discount retailers that typically provide the lowest prices.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reports that employment in the manufacturing sector will decrease by .5 percent annually through 2028. It also reports that employment in computer, electronics, and apparel manufacturing is expected to decline. Apparel manufacturing, specifically, will be impacted severely, with employment falling 32.3 percent.

Several major issues will affect employment in general consumer products manufacturing. Many manufacturers are facing salary, work hour, and other employment issues with their workers. Work stoppages or slowdowns can severely affect production, and ethical companies are trying to balance the financial realities of doing business (the rising cost of labor, shipping, and raw materials, increasing government regulation, etc.) with the well-being of their employees. Second, the Great Recession of 2007–2009 caused many companies to merge or close. This has helped some of the surviving companies to prosper, but it also reduced the number of jobs in the field. Finally, competition from foreign general consumer products companies—which can produce goods for far less money, in most cases, than it costs American companies to produce them—is severely challenging U.S. manufacturers. Manufacturers must find ways to remain competitive with these companies without sacrificing product quality or lowering worker wages so much that workers go on strike or engage in work slowdowns.

Employment of market research analysts is expected to grow by 20 percent (much faster than the average for all careers) through 2028, according to the DOL. Job opportunities will be best for those with data analysis and statistical skills.

Employment in the retail trade sector is expected to decline .1 percent through 2028, according to the DOL. The employment of retail sales workers is projected to fall 2 percent through 2028, partially because of the transition to e-commerce. As online shopping continues to grow, department stores will put greater emphasis on developing creative storefronts, unique in-store experiences, and customer service as a way to compete with online stores. Store employees may be required to handle extra duties as retailers contend with cost pressures. Employment at book and media stores is expected to decline, while automobile salespeople will not be affected as severely. With online sales expected to increase, general consumer products companies will hire more advertising and marketing workers—especially those with experience in social and mobile media—in the coming years.

In April 2019,, an enterprise that connects companies with online marketing firms, shared some compelling statistics regarding the growth of mobile commerce. At the end of the decade, there were approximately 5.1 billion unique mobile users. By 2021, more than 50 percent of all e-commerce sales will be attributable to mobile platforms. More than 61 million consumers in the United States were expected to use mobile forms of payment in 2019. About 61 percent of Americans used mobile devices for price comparison purposes, and 49 percent used their phones for shopping.

Salaries in the general consumer products industry vary by career and employer. For example, an industrial engineer at Microsoft will earn a higher salary than a similar worker at a small computer company. According to the DOL, workers in production occupations had mean annual earnings of $35,070 in 2018, which is lower than the average ($38,640) for workers in all occupations. On the other hand, marketing managers earned $134,290 a year, and marketing research analysts earned $63,120 annually. Both of these figures exceed the national average for all workers. In May 2018, first-line supervisors of sales workers earned the following mean annual salaries by employer: general merchandise stores, $42,030; grocery stores, $44,660; clothing stores, $43,500; building material and supplies dealers, $47,310; and scientific research and development services, $82,010. In May 2018, retail sales workers earned median salaries of $24,340.

During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the global consumer products experienced dramatic challenges and changes. As many people stayed home to comply with social gathering and travel restrictions to slow the spread of the disease, some items, such as paper towels and toilet paper, underwent sever shortages as demand surged. Electronic entertainment and information technology devices, such as gaming consoles and PCs, were also in high demand, with shortages frustrating many consumers. At the same time, disrupted supply chains and shuttered manufacturing facilities meant fewer products rolled off assembly lines to be shipped to consumers. As buyers shifted to online shopping, the U.S. Post Office, UPS, and FeEx, took on overwhelming volumes of packages, creating delays and backlogs. While the consumer products industry is large and varied, no branch of it found their work unchanged by the pandemic.

In 2020, the pandemic affected various manufacturers differently, and recovery may take longer to reach the levels that had been reached before the pandemic. Deloitte anticipated a decline in annual manufacturing growth levels of more than -6 percent in 2020; growth in 2021 was projected to be 3.5 percent. Areas that U.S. manufacturers will be focusing on in 2021 and beyond include, as part of their recovery, will be navigating disruption, investing in digital, automating and increasing the visibility of their supply chain network, and creating greater agility in their workforce. As Deloitte describes it, "The year ahead will vary for manufacturers depending on where they have felt the greatest impact from the pandemic. For some, it will focus on rebuilding lost revenue streams; for others it could require recalibrating supply networks to serve different market demands."

There is optimism for retail sales to improve post pandemic. The COVID-19 vaccine was deployed in early 2020 and as its distribution throughout the U.S., and around the world, accelerates, the economy will strengthen and consumer confidence will rebound. The National Retail Federation forecasts that retail sales will grow by between 6.5 percent and 8.2 percent, to reach $4.33 trillion, in 2021. As described in its forecast, "...healthy consumer fundamentals, pent-up demand, and widespread distribution of the vaccine will generate increased economic growth, retails sales, and consumer spending."