E-commerce has skyrocketed in growth, with total revenue reaching $3.5 billion in 2019. And with the world on lockdown from the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers drastically rose within the first month. As of mid-April, online retailers in the U.S. had seen revenue growth of 68%. The pandemic has undoubtedly pushed the public to mostly rely on online services, from shopping and banking to the rapid increase of work from home set-ups.
Of course, an enabler of this is technology, which has transformed the way customers shop. With e-commerce trends like mobile shopping and faster check-outs, we’re getting more seamless experiences. In turn, customers now expect more when it comes to their e-commerce experience.
But there’s a knock-on effect to businesses, too, which now operate differently. Yes, everything from payments to inventory management has gone online. So what does this mean for employment opportunities? Will enhanced AI mean less staff in the future? And can only workers with tech expertise benefit?
In an ever-changing and expanding market there’s more to it than meets the eye. As of May, it was estimated that 2.1 million retail jobs were lost in relation to the pandemic. Companies, employees, and new graduates are struggling to find ways to make ends meet. To understand how the e-commerce employment landscape has changed, we’ve broken down what this all means and looks like for job prospects in the e-commerce sector.
1. Increased Demand for Workers
Many assumed the growth of e-commerce meant a huge blow to the job market, especially in the world of retail. However, it actually wound up creating numerous employment opportunities in various sectors.
How did this happen? Think of the pros of online shopping: it’s easier to search for products; the catalog is organized; items are packaged and shipped to your door within 1-3 business days or less. This convenience has driven consumer habits, with 87% of shoppers saying speedy and efficient delivery were key factors in making a purchase.
But this high benchmark can only be met because of hundreds of workers who handle everything from web design to logistics. With e-commerce businesses prioritizing customer service, that means hiring people to do the necessary work. And while the growth of e-commerce was traditionally associated with a decrease in retail jobs, e-commerce has created 178,000 new jobs over a span of 15 years. Even now, warehouses and other companies are looking for ways to re-open their services with safer working conditions.
And that’s just the operational side. E-commerce is all made possible with software and apps that bring customers an experience like nothing before. The software and tech industry is growing at an unstoppable speed. There’s been 19% job expansion since 2016, based on a study by Software.org and The Economist Intelligence Unit. According to the same study, this increased America’s overall employment rate by 3%. Even in this uncertain time, IT and tech continue to grow as more and more businesses need the technology to sell online.
2. Job Market is still expanding
Sales from e-commerce make up 10% of all retail purchases, with analysts predicting this to increase by 15% year by year. The need to satisfy consumer demands almost always means more careers in the future. And the shift of many shoppers to online options during the pandemic has only increased demand in the e-commerce niche.
Many people can benefit from the growing online marketplace. For starters, content marketing is vital to e-commerce sales. In 2019, it was found that 70% of consumers preferred to hear about products in the form of content over traditional ads.
Content creators fill the void
The demand for new content continues to increase. That means there is an urgent need for creatives to produce this content. Creatives can mean filmmakers, social media influencers, graphic designers, photographers, writers, and more.
The demand for marketing content has persisted during the pandemic, too, particularly in sectors where having large numbers of people in lockdown means a more captive audience. Video game retailers in the U.S., for instance, have ramped up their spending.
Remote sales agents
The combination of tech and the rise of remote work has made it easier to hire workers out of office. Companies have started to take advantage of this. Sales employers hire 66% more remote workers than average.
E-commerce has also allowed companies to tap into global employment networks. In a 2019 study in China, it was found that e-commerce played a vital role in creating jobs in rural areas. The study followed e-commerce workers in villages and found that households that participate in e-commerce earned 80% more than those who did not.
There’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the present pandemic’s long-term impacts. There’s no question, however, that it’s made remote working more prevalent in many sectors. In the past, a higher possibility of remote work has meant greater employment opportunities. It’s a hopeful but not unrealistic prediction that this may continue.
3. Technology provides workers with an upper hand
The continual growth of the e-commerce sector has fueled the development of new technology. Almost every aspect of everyday life has been streamlined by technological advances. This includes making once specialized information and learning tools more accessible. This is great news for employees who wish to pick up more skills while they work.
Jobs that normally required special knowledge have now become more accessible thanks to online courses. A study by Udemy found that 50% of respondents find online class takers more experienced.
Workers can now source from tons of different information outlets to beef up their resume or even apply themselves towards future promotions. These improvements can be anything from picking up a new skill or aiding personal growth in the workplace.
AI has also impacted workers in e-commerce. Specialized computer programs have helped in tabulating user experience data, executing mundane tasks, and handling customer interactions. This allows workers to focus on other areas of their job, increasing workflow and productivity. Accenture currently estimates that by 2035, AI will improve business productivity by 43%.
4. Omnichannel sales and recruitment
Omnichannel selling means accessing consumers at every touchpoint, both online and offline. Many established stores have taken advantage of this and launched online shopping experiences to mimic the ones found in their stores. This makes perfect sense as companies with omnichannel sales retain 89% of their customers.
This means, even with the popularity of online shopping, retail jobs are still necessary to the shopping experience as a whole. In fact, 71% of consumers say they like finding brands by themselves whether through recommendations or in-store.
Amazon took advantage of omnichannel sales by launching physical stores to add to the consumer's shopping experience. The company saw the need to reach consumers through all channels. Their physical stores provided the same purchasing ease as online shopping. Checkouts are linked to users’ Amazon accounts, also allowing them to gain onsite customer feedback.
The omnichannel experience goes beyond consumer habits. It also helps employers source potential employees. Companies have started marketing their jobs on as many platforms as possible. That may mean websites, in-store, social media platforms, or others. Omnichannel recruiting has become a key resource for companies looking to hire. 84% of companies, for instance, now look at social media for recruitment.
Whether the success of brick and mortar stores as part of omnichannel strategies continues post-pandemic is more doubtful. The traditional retail sector has been decimated in the early months of 2020. Forrester predicts a global loss of $2.1 trillion for the sector in 2020. They also believe it could take more than four years for growth in the industry to return to pre-coronavirus levels.
A final note
In an ever-expanding market such as e-commerce, change is going to be rapid and extensive. Far from being a threat, the evolution in the sector to date has created more progressive functions for employees to thrive. Even with the introduction of AI and other technology, it’s clear that the human touch is still essential to keep the market growing. Not to mention developing and leverage that technology. It requires a combination of various skills from all sectors, online and offline, in order to succeed.
As with most sectors, though, it’s harder to predict the future of e-commerce while in the midst of a global pandemic. A weakened global economy may mean fewer employment opportunities across the board, including in the e-commerce industry. That sector, though, is one of the more resilient around. It’s also one which is being relied upon more, rather than less, during the current crisis.
Nick Shaw is the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) for leading retail Inventory management software provider Brightpearl and is responsible for Global Marketing, Sales and Alliances. Previously Nick was GM and Vice President of the EMEA Consumer business at Symantec.
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