March jobs report and the death of the American salesman

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

Call it the death of the American salesman.

For a second month in a row, the retail industry topped the charts in terms of number of jobs lost in the US. The sector shed 29,700 jobs last month, following a 30,900 decline in February as distress among big-box retailers and department stores forces an ever growing number of companies to shutter stores and file for bankruptcy protection.

This week alone has seen budget shoe chain Payless ShoeSource file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Ralph Lauren announce plans to cut more jobs and stores as part of a mass cost cutting drive. Meanwhile, Staples is reportedly exploring a sales as the office supply chain struggles to adapt to competition from online rivals like Amazon and the secular decline in demand for printers and ink toners.

“This seems to tally somewhat with weaker consumer spending data and is something worth watching,” said James Knightley at ING.

The problems in the retail sector has been brewing for some time but have come to a head in a spectacular fashion this year amid a perfect storm of negative factors. These include years of chain over expansion, a shift in consumer spending habits away from buying “stuff” in favour of spending on experience, ever growing competition from e-commerce and falling foot traffic in US shopping centres.

But in a sign perhaps of things to come, even as brick and mortar stores big and small — from Macy’s and Sears to Abercrombie & Fitch and Radioshack — have announced sweeping store closures, Amazon is busy ramping up hiring.

The e-commerce giant said this week that it planned to create 30,000 new part-time positions this year. The news comes on top of the 100,000 full-time jobs the company said in January that it was looking to create over by mid-2018.

Most of the new jobs will be inside Amazon warehouses, where workers help pick and pack goods alongside robotic components. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for American workers remain to be seen.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.