Friday, December 20, 2019

Oregon General Merchandise Stores – Surviving the “Retail Apocalypse”

Retail market analysts love talking about the retail apocalypse, i.e. the imminent death of brick and mortar stores thanks to the Internet and Amazon. However, retail trade is a large and diverse sector, and oversimplified predictions may not accurately portray some of its segments.

In 2018, retail trade employment reached 211,066 or about one out of 10 jobs in Oregon. After food and beverage stores, general merchandise stores (GMS) were the second largest employer in retail trade with 41,340 jobs.

General merchandise stores include department stores, warehouse clubs, superstores and other general merchandise stores. Establishments in this subsector are unique in that they have the equipment and staff capable of retailing a large variety of goods from a single location.

Employment in General Merchandise Stores Remained Solid in Recession

During the infamous recession from 2007 to 2010, total employment in Oregon declined by about 8 percent, with some industries like construction suffering severe job losses. Remarkably, employment in GMS declined by less than 1 percent between 2007 and 2010. In fact, employment in GMS continued to grow until late 2008, dropped by 2010, and rebounded to exceed the pre-recession peak in 2011.

Among the three top retail employers in Oregon, general merchandise stores and food and beverage stores weathered the recession well. In contrast, employment levels in motor vehicle and parts dealers, the third largest retail employer, dropped by nearly 20 percent during the recession, recovered slowly, and remains at about 2001 levels to this day.

Employment in general merchandise stores increased from 36,682 in 2001 to 41,340 jobs in 2018. The rate of growth in GMS was 12.7 percent compared with 20.3 percent in all industries.

Employment in General Merchandise Stores Depends on Population Growth

While Amazon is trying to enter into the groceries side of retail, most consumers still require convenient access to food and every day household items where they live and work. Regardless of economic ups and downs, people must spend a certain portion of their income on food and household supplies. Consumers need fresh and perishable items frequently, and most of them will not travel long distances nor wait for Internet companies to deliver their loaf of bread or the right garbage bags. In addition, an increasing number of consumers prefer locally produced food and other everyday items.

Consequently, parts of retail trade generally follow demographic trends and that tends to make their employment base less volatile compared with other industries with different business cycles. In the past decade and a half, Oregon’s population increased by about 1 percent per year, and, no surprise, the jobs in general merchandise stores trailed that steady rate of growth.

However, in the markets defined and even confined by demographics, the main challenge for industries such as GMS is still competition. Only those general stores able to interpret and follow the ever-changing consumer preferences can ensure their own staying power in this highly competitive environment.

General Merchandise Stores Are Likely to Remain in Our Neighborhoods

According to the Oregon Employment Department’s employment projections for 2017 to 2027, employment in general merchandise stores will increase by 12 percent. The rate of growth is faster than the 9 percent for retail trade overall and only slightly slower than the 13 percent for all private industries. So, GMS certainly do not seem to be facing the “retail demise” just yet.

Even if Internet companies succeed in selling many kinds of standard groceries online, the brick and mortar stores can still offer a complete shopping experience, focused on fresh, local, or more specialized products right in our neighborhoods. As long as enough customers continue to enjoy live shopping with real sales people available to assist and advise, general merchandise stores will remain a vital part of our communities.

To learn more, read workforce analyst Tony Wendel's full article here.

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