5 Retail Roles That Could Go Away Post-COVID-19

The coronavirus outbreak has upheaved the United States economy and led to massive disruptions in Americans’ lives. Among those bearing the brunt of the health crisis are the millions of people who have been pushed out of work as efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 have forced the closures of restaurants, hotels and stores.

Just days ago, the Labor Department reported that another 1.3 million people filed jobless claims during the week ended July 11. (Roughly 50 million people in the U.S. applied for unemployment over the past four months alone.) Although a loosening of restrictions could lead companies to rehire some of their employees, many of those roles could begin to lose their purpose as the world adjusts to a new normal.

Here, FN rounds up the jobs that could potentially be lost to the pandemic.

Chief experience officers

Over the past decade, a number of boldface chains like Macy’s and J.Crew sought out CXOs to restore relevancy to their brands and lure in new customers through tech-enabled and innovative physical store experiences that cannot be replicated online. However, the outbreak has thrown a wrench into retailers’ ambitious plans to use stores as spaces for social gathering and subsequently called into question the role of the leaders who were meant to help solidify brick-and-mortar’s place as a key component of retail strategy.

The role, according to experts, now requires a transformation as CXOs look for unusual or unexpected ways to engage the public at a time when customers are tightening their purse strings and avoiding public spaces. Separately, omnichannel commerce has given CXOs multiple platforms through which they can showcase their experiential chops — time (and budgets) will tell whether it’s enough to keep this role afloat.

Diversity and inclusion leaders

As the pandemic raged in mid-March, the business pillar of diversity and inclusion — which had experienced a burst in recent years as Gen Z and millennial cohorts push for greater levels of corporate social responsibility and transparency — seemed to lose priority for many firms as they pivoted to cost-cutting amid macroeconomic uncertainty. What’s more, reports indicated that chief diversity officers and related D&I roles were among the scores of retail employees that were furloughed in March.

As the financial crisis took hold in the U.S. in the fall of 2008, the Society for Human Resource Management found that 39% of HR professionals said their budgets for anti-harassment and diversity training had declined over the previous prior year. Similarly, it’s not farfetched to assume that the COVID-19 outbreak, which has already led to devastating implications for the American economy, could cause even greater damage to D&I efforts.

In a new report, Glassdoor found that postings for job titles including “chief diversity officer,” “diversity and inclusion recruiter” or “diversity and inclusion program manager” declined at twice the rate of overall job postings between mid-March and the first week of June.

However, tides have recently turned in favor of D&I roles: Glassdoor reported that these and related job openings have surged 55% since June 8. Plus, employee reviews on the site that discuss diversity, racial justice, Black Lives Matter and similar topics have surged 63% following the week of May 25 — the day George Floyd, a black man, was killed during police custody after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes. (Floyd’s death had led to weeks of international protests over racial injustice and police brutality; these efforts are ongoing.)

“Most D&I jobs are in HR departments, which typically are hit hard during recessions,” explained Glassdoor. “[However, the recent] growth in job openings comes against a backdrop of a historic nationwide focus on issues of racial inequality and the need for greater diversity and equal opportunity across society.” Still, the firm noted that “the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis still looms large as, notwithstanding this recent surge in D&I job openings, the number of such openings is significantly depressed compared to pre-crisis levels.”

Events coordinators

Industries across the board are suffering losses as consumers take precautionary measures to mitigate their exposure to the virus, which includes limiting travel and unnecessary activities both indoors and outdoors. In response, a slew of footwear companies, brand marketing firms and other businesses have canceled or postponed their events, from the CFDA Fashion Awards and the Met Gala to cruise presentations, trade shows and sporting tournaments, putting in jeopardy the role of the event coordinator.

What’s more, a recent spike in new COVID-19 infections has either stalled or pulled back the reopenings of a number of nationwide retail chains. Many companies are unsure about when it will be safe to plan their next event, whether patrons will feel comfortable enough to show up and if they can even continue to fund the role amid such high levels of uncertainty.

Personal stylists

As the pandemic continues to keep people at home, millions of Americans have swapped their trousers and block heels for sweatpants and slippers. Many personal stylists that previously worked with customers to select outfits, shoes and accessories for boardroom meetings, special occasions and other events are seeing their client lists dwindle along with the necessity for curated wardrobes.

However, as retailers and business owners look for alternatives to in-store shopping, virtual styling services appear to be gaining traction. Some companies have launched Zoom consultations, Facebook Live sessions and other conferencing or social media solutions to introduce shoppers to new products. Others have even turned to appointment-based services that allow customers to show up in stores for one-on-one styling.

Retail store associates

An increasing number of retailers are currently operating with reduced budgets. As a result, many of them have resorted to furloughs or layoffs. Although retail added nearly 740,000 jobs in June and 372,000 in May, nonfarm payroll declines in the sector totaled 2.4 million for the months of March and April combined. Among the hardest-hit categories were clothing and accessories shops, department stores and specialty boutiques, and experts predict it will take years for the economy to recover these losses.

However, warehouse clubs and supercenters have continued to be a bright spot for the industry: Big-box rivals Walmart, Amazon and Target have posted hundreds of thousands of open roles over the past few months as coronavirus-induced panic-buying has driven up demand for home essentials and other necessities. The theory, some experts hold, is that those laid off from in-store roles could pick up new work in booming business areas such as distribution centers and warehouse facilities.

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