Thursday, July 27, 2017

Retail Trade in Utah:
How Online Sales are Reshaping the Industry and Its Workforce.

Consumer spending makes up around 68 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Consumer spending is individuals and families purchasing groceries, clothing, recreation, stocks, insurance, education and much more. The transactions cover a broad swath of economic activity.

Much of the nation’s consumer spending is captured via retail trade. A useful retail trade definition is “the re-sale (sale without transformation) of new and used goods to the general public, for personal or household consumption or utilization.” Not all consumer spending is captured through retail trade transactions, but a large share is.

Broad-category examples of retail trade sectors are motor vehicle sales, furniture stores, electronic stores, building material stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, clothing stores and department stores, among others.

Then there is the relatively new and emerging part of the retail trade sphere — nonstore retailers. These are establishments that sell products on the internet. Examples include Amazon, Zappos, Overstock.com, or eBay. These types of retailers have grown rapidly in the past 15 years and their presence is reshaping the retail trade landscape.

Whereas in the past nearly all retail transactions were done through traditional brick-and-mortar stores, now a significant and growing segment is diverted to internet sales. The consumer shops online and FedEx (or like) delivers the product. One can see that the number of brick-and-mortar stores and the level of local sales across the country are being endangered by this economic evolution.

The brick-and-mortar reduction is beginning to show its economic presence in the United States employment numbers. While the U.S. economy is finally expanding at a healthy pace this side of the Great Recession, one of the few industries not rising with this tide is retail trade. While overall retail sales are increasing, employment is not.

Traditionally, as a population increases, retail trade employment grows simultaneously, since population growth and consumer spending volume is an integrated dynamic. If studied deeply, a certain ratio of retail trade employment growth spawned from population growth would emerge. Before the internet, the vast majority of all consumer sales occurred in the immediate community or region. But now, the internet is diverting these sales away from the local community — and with internet sales growing, its market share will increase.

We do not yet know how much brick-and-mortar erosion will eventually occur. And will such a phenomenon hit some areas more than others (e.g., urban vs. rural, or local vs. tourist spending)? These are touch points that economist will be watching as this internet sales phenomenon continues to grow within the national and Utah economies.

In light of this change, in this quarter’s Local Insights we are profiling retail trade employment throughout Utah’s local regions. This can offer a profile of where retail trade is now in a local economy, and possibly how much of the sector could become vulnerable to the internet-sales phenomenon.

A deeper look at each region can be found via the tabs at the top of the page.

Check Out the Viz
If you are interested in the details, the data visualization below breaks out the various retail categories and allows you to compare sales (as a share of total taxable sales) and employment (as a share of total nonfarm employment) in each category (by county) over time. The relative changes in taxable sales compared to employment are telling in relation to some of the structural changes being driven by online sales, although direct links are difficult to establish as there are many other confounding factors. The tables at the bottom give the actual sales and employment levels, summed-up for whatever you have selected in the county and retail category filters.

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