Contrary to the general perception that the e-commerce retail behemoth Amazon will destroy the job opportunities, it is going to add more jobs in the US market, says a Financial Times report. As the retail employment growth has stagnated since 2015 in the US, the job loss at half a million department stores with the advent of online e-commerce, Amazon bears much of the blame says the report.According to the report, half of all US households are now reckoned to have signed up for its $99-a-year Prime service, which offers free delivery on millions of products. When they do, Wedbush Securities estimates they spend 10% less in physical stores.The jobs created are harder to pinpoint. Amazon employs fewer than three times as many people in the US as Walmart did in 1985 when its founder Sam Walton was crowned America’s richest person — despite having five times the inflation-adjusted revenue. But whereas Walmart ran most of its logistics in-house, Amazon relies extensively on parcel carriers and agency workers; UPS alone has added 100,000 jobs in the past 16 years, noted the report.
Employment opportunityOfficials do not count these as retail jobs. But Michael Mandel, an economist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, reckons that once warehouse workers are taken into account, new e-commerce jobs outnumber brick-and-mortar losses by 54,000 over the past year, argues the report.That chimes with the experience of Ocado, a British online grocer. At its fulfillment center in Andover, 70 miles west of London, battery-powered robots fetch crates of food, so workers can handle 180 or more items an hour. Nonetheless, Ocado employs 12,000 drivers, warehouse operatives, and other staff to deliver perhaps £1.6 billion worth of groceries, including the estimated revenues of a website the company runs for rival Wm Morrison. That is 76 staff for every £10 million of retail sales, compared with just 36 to generate the same revenue at Aldi’s UK stores, says the report.Logistics openings do not help jobless shop workers, who are often in the wrong place and not up to the physical demands, the report concurred. Still, Mandel is probably right that e-commerce roles are more productive and better-paid than shop work, which can involve standing idle for hours.The new jobs may not last, even if fulfillment centers today are the opposite of Arthur Radebaugh’s 1950s vision of a robot warehouse. One of his futuristic illustrations depicts a lone human masterminding a warehouse staffed by antlike automata. In reality, computers beat humans at planning; we need people for their motor skills.Amazon is trying to change that, developing a fleet of delivery drones that would put thousands of workers out of work. The company also offers an annual $20,000 prize for the robot that does best at fiddly tasks such as picking up a golf ball. What such a technological leap would mean for employment is unguessable. But progress has been slow. Last year’s winners despaired of emulating a human hand. Instead, they strapped a hose to a robot arm. A computer program maneuvered it into position and then switched on a vacuum cleaner, trying to replace the human grip with a sucker’s grasp.