Hey, there's something you should know about the end of retail: It's not really the end of retail.
Last week, I plugged a report in Bloomberg Businessweek foretelling the future of retail as a wasteland of department and electronics stores. As shoppers did more of their research on the Web, learned about products from friends, scanned their cards (or phones) over machines, and shopped at places like Amazon, I predicted that retail would need fewer workers manning the floor, recommending items, and running the registers.
The sudden resignation of Best Buy's CEO was just the latest chapter in the recent struggles of retailers. Those struggles themselves are only one volume in the 15-year stagnation of retail employment.
I stand by the basic thesis of the piece: Technology poses a threat to retail, just as it posed a threat to employment in manufacturing and agriculture, the last two supersectors that got bit by innovation that killed jobs and improved efficiency. But a broader picture suggests that what we're seeing in retail doesn't look like the end of anything, really. Here's a graph that tracks four supersectors' share of America's jobs. Retail is in blue. Manufacturing is in red. Health/education is in green. Agriculture is in orange. What do you see?
Here's what I see: Manufacturing's in a free fall. Even its recent recovery -- 400,000 new jobs in two years -- has done little more than stabilize the sector around 9%. Agriculture has ducked under 2%. Health/education has doubled to 15%. And retail? Its share of jobs is remarkably thermostatic. Three decades ago, retail was 11% of the economy. Today, it's ... 11% of the economy.