Analysts from Citibank and academics from Oxford University have come out with a bleak forecast for jobs in retail as automation takes hold.
Their prediction is contained in the latest note in Citi’s “Technology at Work” series, circulated to clients this week.
One of the co-authors of the note, Carl Benedikt Frey, who works at the University of Oxford’s policy school, writes:
“The lesson of the twentieth century has been that most jobs that become automatable eventually disappear. Retail is one industry in which employment is likely to vanish.”
Frey and his colleagues estimate that 80% of jobs in transportation and logistics are at risk, with the rise of self-driving trucks and increased warehouse automation. Almost two-thirds of cashier and sales jobs are also at risk of disappearing due to technology, they predict.
So far the rise of Amazon and other e-commerce players is only the beginning, they write.
While automation and technological innovation have sometimes led to new types of jobs, the Citi and Oxford researchers believe that as in agriculture, mining, and manufacturing, jobs in retail will simply disappear.
The jobs being created in retail with automation and robotics are higher skilled roles often requiring degrees, they find.
Commentators in the US have been asking how so many jobs could disappear without more public reaction. They have tended to conclude that because retail jobs are everywhere, the impact has not been felt deeply anywhere.
But the Citi and Oxford researchers are forecasting profound social effects, writing: “In the last decade retail sales transacted online have gone from around 2% of the total to around 8%, yet penetration of automation remains quite low.
“E-Commerce penetration varies greatly by country, and as millennials enter peak spending years the e-Commerce driver will increase, meaning that much of the disruption from automation in transport, warehousing, and logistics is yet to come.”