Derek Thompson spotlights the stagnation of retail jobs:
According to data obtained by The Atlantic from EMSI, the retail industry gained about 49,000 jobs between 2001 and 2013, which means it grew by exactly 0.32 percent. Which means it didn’t grow. But the major action is at the bookends of this graph below, which shows employment growth in the largest retail subcategories. Department stores, like JCPenney, lost more than 200,000 jobs this century. But supercenters like Walmart, which operates in more than 3,200 domestic locations, added half a million (often lower-paying) jobs.
Relatedly, Edward McClelland reflects on the decline of Sears:
Sears is dying as a result of two not unrelated phenomena: the shrinking of the middle class and the atomization of American culture.
It’s still an all-things-for-all-shoppers emporium that sells pool tables, gas grills, televisions, beds and power drills, then cleans your teeth, checks your eyes and fills out your taxes. But that niche is disappearing as customers hunt for bargains on the Internet and in specialty stores, and as the retail world is pulled apart into avant-garde department stores and discounters — exactly what Sears promised it would never be. Maybe in 1975, a salesman and his boss both bought their shirts and ties at Sears, but now the boss shops at Barneys, and the salesman goes to Men’s Wearhouse. This divide is a result of the fact that, over the last two decades, the top 5 percent of earners have increased their share of consumption from 28 percent to 38 percent.
“As a retailer or a restaurant chain, if you’re not at the really high level or the low level, that’s a tough place to be,” John G. Maxwell, head of the global retail and consumer practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers told The New York Times in February. “You don’t want to be stuck in the middle.”
Dreher contributes his thoughts:
I don’t think I know anybody who shops at Sears. As McClelland points out, most people today either shop at discount stores like Walmart, or at more specialized retailers. I don’t know about you, but I almost never go to department stores, even the more upscale ones, like Nordstroms. When I do, it feels nostalgic, but not in a pleasant way. It’s like riding around in a 1980s-model Lincoln Continental, but not one old-school enough to be cool. It’s not so much the merchandise as it is the form.