Industry Outlook

Sales industry trends in the coming years will include consolidation into larger firms and the continued spread of new technology, both of which should slow growth in some occupations; for example, as drug and grocery stores convert to self-service operations, they will need fewer sales clerks. Heightened competition and pressure to lower operating costs will continue to force mergers. The result will be reduced demand for some workers. Because of the growth of the aging population, wholesale trade firms that specialize in pharmaceuticals and medical devices will experience faster than average employment growth. More jobs should also be available in customer services as consolidation and competition encourage expansion of these services. There also will be employment opportunities for workers in financial, logistical, technical, and advertising positions.

The outlook for retail sales includes facing some significant challenges. Of top, and immediate, concern has been the coronavirus pandemic (also known as COVID-19), which has affected the retail industry and numerous other industries around the world. The rising number of coronavirus cases throughout America has caused many states to close restaurants, bars, theaters, and brick-and-mortar retail operations, such as stores where contact-less and/or curbside pickup is not available. Many people have been working from home until businesses can safely reopen. As a result, consumers have shifted their shopping behavior, with a growing number of people making online purchases for items they would otherwise normally buy during in-store visits, such as medicines, health items, cleaning materials, groceries, and more. E-commerce sales for April 2020 alone were up more than 52 percent compared to the previous year. Many retail businesses have had to restrategize their retailing methods in order to keep consumers and employees safe, and to keep generating revenue. The changes in the retail industry may be temporary or in some instances permanent, but only time will reveal the long-term effects.

The economic slowdown due to COVID-19, rising health care costs, and consumer efforts to pay down historically high existing debts will compete with retailers for the public's money. Along with a recent slowdown in the housing market and a growing number of mortgage foreclosures, these factors dampen consumer confidence and lead to more saving and less spending. However, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 is expected to bolster the economy and there will be growth in per capita disposable income, according to market researcher IBISWorld. The National Retail Federation predicts that retail sales will increase by between 6.5 percent and 8.2 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, reaching more than $4.33 trillion in 2021. The U.S. retail trade industry is projected to grow through 2025, as the national employment rate and the Consumer Confidence Index rise.

Electronic commerce and other types of new technology are expected to continue affecting employment. reported that retail e-commerce sales worldwide were $3.53 trillion in 2019, and projected this revenue to grow dramatically in just a few years, to $6.54 trillion by 2022. The growth of e-commerce and rising productivity due to improved computer technology is expected to cause some decline in administrative support and marketing and sales positions. Much of the record-keeping, ordering, and processing in retail sales will be automated, as will inventory management and shipping. E-commerce will lessen the need for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks. However, more computer specialists will be needed, such as Webmasters, Internet sales managers, and technical support workers, to develop e-commerce and electronic data exchange systems. E-commerce will also affect sales workers. Sales workers’ jobs will become more technology-dependent as they use computers to track inventory, solicit new business, and provide customer service.

The retail field is extremely competitive, and many start-ups fail each year. The most common reason for failure is poor management. Thus people with some managerial experience or training will likely have the best chance at running a successful business.

Employment of first-line supervisors of retail sales workers, which includes retail managers, is expected to decline by 2 percent through 2028. Although retailers have reduced their management staff to cut costs and make operations more efficient, there will continue to be opportunities in retailing. Internet stores and e-commerce ventures will present new opportunities for retail managers, for example. However, competition for all jobs will continue to increase, and computerized systems for inventory control may reduce the need for some managers. Applicants with the best educational backgrounds and work experience will have the best chances of finding jobs.

During economic recessions, sales volume and the resulting demand for sales workers generally decline. Purchases of costly items, such as cars, appliances, and furniture, tend to be postponed during difficult economic times. According to the AON Retail Industry Report for 2011, retail suffered more job losses throughout the recession than overall non-farm employment sectors in the same time period. AON recently issued a report on the pandemic, stating that "retailers who operate on tight margins are most vulnerable to cash flow shortages." The AON pointed out that the "retail sector has considerable exposure to the potential impacts of the virus," due to the complex global supply chains and distribution networks. Retail businesses that survive will be assessing potential impacts and developing plans to protect revenue and ensure sustainable operations, all while protecting the health of their employees and customers.

Almost 4.8 million people are employed as sales workers in retail stores of all types and sizes. The employment of sales personnel is expected to decline by 2 percent through 2028, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Demand for in-store retail sales workers is due to increased competition from online sales. There will be some job opportunities, however, because turnover among sales workers is much higher than average. Many of the expected employment opportunities will stem from the need to replace workers. Other positions will result from existing stores’ staffing for longer business hours or reducing the length of the average employee workweek.