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Department Declining: The Retail Store Problem and Looming Automation

Arvind Pillai, Staff Writer

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The 21st century: an age of evolution, rampant discoveries, and most importantly, e-commerce! Whether you’re a teenager shopping for a new video game or an adult shopping for designer clothes, the world has embraced online shopping. This convenient method allows us to skip the line, save gas mileage, and not deal with bad customer service. While all of this is fortunate for us, e-commerce is destroying another big industry, retail.

According to Bloomberg, over 1 billion acres of U.S retail space will be closed in coming years. This is 10% of total US retail acres. A lot of malls are also losing their stores. This trend is predicted to continue until, eventually, the entire retail industry will be wiped out. Several current corporate giants are also losing steam. Recently, Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy and announced that they will be closing 400 stores. Other chains that are closing several of their locations due to near bankruptcy include RadioShack, JCPenney’s, and Macy’s. Last August, Macy’s stated that it would close 100 of its stores.

However, store closing only addresses the beginning of the issue. The main problem with this department plight is the job market. Over 3,000 retail workers have lost their jobs since March, and since January, 60,000 US retail workers have lost their jobs. Because of closings, the blue collar job market is losing positions, forcing many Americans into unemployment. Malls, supporting these retail stores, and when blocks of store are emptied, the malls themselves are losing profit and could also close down.

This “department bleeding” is heavily related to modern day automatization, where we often find working class jobs being replaced by machinery who can do it for less. If we continue on this path, the competition for jobs would continue to increase, and would overall create a huge divide between the super wealthy owners and the poor living on the streets, which would be inhumane and give America a terrible impression as an industrialized country.

One argument that might be used to oppose this is that e-commerce, right now, uses human beings for most of the jobs. However, it is much easier to replace the current online shipping and selling jobs with robots. Let’s take the selling of a children’s toy, for example. A stock of this toy would be bought online, then would be packaged, and shipped using the US Postal Service, almost in an assembly line like format. As of now, most of these jobs would be done by humans: the management of the online seller would be done by people, the packaging would be done either by humans or on a machine assembly line, and the shipping would be done by humans. Sure, this might provide a lot of jobs right now, but think of how nearly all of these jobs could easily be taken away and be replaced by a thoughtless, cold-hearted automaton. The management could be replaced by a computer program, the assembly line could be fully integrated to be automatized, and the shipping could be replaced by self-driving cars. This concludes that this retail replacement does NOT mean that these blue-collar jobs are safe.

In the end, the e-commerce market will not be shrinking in popularity any time soon. It will only increase in size and usage, and is the future of retail.  However, there is a big fear of automatization, and by letting this trend continue, we are letting robots taking over the market and creating the dreaded poor/super wealthy gap. We should not allow this to take America’s jobs away. As convenient as online shopping is, it should never confiscate another household’s paycheck.   

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Department Declining: The Retail Store Problem and Looming Automation