"Cognitive dissonance" might be a phrase that best describes the current state of the retail sector. Job growth is up and sales are strong - particularly during the all-important holiday season, rising approximately 3 percent from 2017, according to the National Retail Federation - but major retailers have either gone out of business, or at risk of doing so. Toys "R" Us, Sears, Gymboree and J.C. Penney are but a handful of the examples.
So, what's happening in retail?
Part of the answer, of course, is the internet. E-commerce has served as a notable bright spot for the industry, with online and non-store sales jumping 11.5 percent between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, according to the NRF. Online transactions overall totaled close to $147 billion this past holiday season.
"Robust earnings have enabled businesses to make employment decisions designed to better serve the customer."
New jobs opening up
Robust earnings have enabled business owners and corporate executives to make employment decisions designed to better serve the customer, although many of these positions created aren't the traditional in-store associate.
Order fulfillment specialists are a classic example. There are many steps in the consumer shopping process today, particularly now that buyers have more opportunities to purchase goods like electronics, furniture, clothing and jewelry. Order fulfillment professionals help ensure all those steps - such as counting, inspection, processing, packaging and delivery - are carried out to the letter. E-commerce giants like Amazon and Overstock.com have an ongoing need for these types of associates, often in different capacities, such as in sporting goods as opposed to designer clothing.
Analytics specialists are another fairly new role for which retailers are hiring. These individuals are charged with analyzing reams of data and must determine if there are any trends that may speak to different needs or weaknesses within a company. This identification process helps businesses spot problems - or, conversely, strengths - allowing them to be more proactive rather than reactive.
Social media has revolutionized the world. Although Facebook and Twitter haven't been around for very long relative to the internet - launching in 2004 and 2006, respectively - more than 1 billion people around the world are registered users. Businesses, including retailers, use social media to advertise to their target demographics. Franchises and small-business owners are increasingly hiring social media account managers, content specialists and strategists to better understand their customers and figure out what truly resonates with them.
Short-term store rentals more common
Meanwhile, even though in-store shopping isn't quite as common as it used to be - given the variety of avenues Americans have to spend and "roam the aisles" - brick-and-mortar locations still have their utility.
"A number of e-commerce retailers are renting out small spaces so online shoppers can try before they buy."
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, a number of e-commerce retailers are renting out small spaces in order to market products that were previously only available online, helping e-customers try before they buy. It's proven to be a successful initiative for companies, like Showfields, who help to make these short-term selling opportunities possible.
"If we can make the process of opening a physical store as easy as opening a website, boom! Problem solved!" Tal Nathanel, co-founder and CEO of Showfields, told the Journal.
As is the case with Showfields, businesses that have ties to other employment sectors have benefited from the e-commerce wave. Studies show that companies with an online presence tend to perform better in terms of sales. As such, small businesses that may have only been searchable through Google and Bing are creating e-commerce websites and hiring graphic designers to either develop their very own online destinations or advising in the process.
There's been plenty of turnover within the retail sector over the last 10 years or so. But as brands adapt to consumer trends, they're helping themselves as well as individuals take advantage of new opportunities.