Outside of the world’s tech ecosystems, the digitization of retail hasn’t always been met with positive reviews. There is a fear of automation taking jobs away from humans, and that fear swells as brick and mortar stores go out of business. Are they warranted?
Research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US and reporting by The New York Times show that ecommerce actually has added more retail jobs than traditional models over the last 14 years.
During his meeting with the President of the United States, Alibaba founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma shared his goal to create jobs in the US over five years to focus trade between the US and Southeast Asia.
“Alibaba will create 1 million U.S. jobs by enabling 1 million American small businesses and farmers to sell American goods to China and Asian consumers on the Alibaba platform,” the company said in a statement.
Although ambitious, it’s also quite possible for a company that had more than 10 million active sellers in 2015, and estimates its China retail marketplaces “contributed to the creation of over 15 million job opportunities.”
“Machines should only do what humans cannot,” said Jack Ma. “Only in this way can we have the opportunities to keep machines as working partners with humans, rather than as replacements.”
Not only has there been an increase in ecommerce related jobs in the last ten years, these jobs on average also come with a better pay check – roughly 30% more than traditional retail jobs as averaged by one economist (all based on US figures).
Taking into account only Alibaba stock given to in-house employees, Fortune reports each person was paid roughly $11,134 in the latest quarter, a 6% bump in bonus pay per head compared to the previous year – more than double the average American’s raise last year.
While ecommerce is growing, its labor force still represents a relatively small chunk compared to traditional stores but given how interconnected multi-channel retail has become,
How do you categorize a sales clerk that assists a shopper ordering online through an iPad?
And so, where do we stand?
Unsurprisingly, all of these conclusions have been met with skeptics but recent news reporting Amazon’s aim to hire 50,000 workers in one day is a positive sign that ecommerce will always have room for a human workforce.
To put this figure in relative terms, the US Labour Department reported that 220,000 jobs were added to the US economy in June. Amazon will fulfil a quarter of this total in a single recruitment event.
This Quartz headline puts it best,
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