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  • Writer's pictureSarah Mariana

The Retail Exodus: Why US Retail Workers Are Quitting in Record Numbers

Discover why US retail workers are leaving their jobs at unprecedented rates in 2023. Explore the impact of the pandemic, rising prices, and the push for unionization on the retail industry.

Business person walking on the street

In 2022, a McKinsey study sent shockwaves through the US retail industry. It revealed that the quit rate for retail workers was over 70 percent higher than in other sectors. Fast forward to 2023, and being a retail worker in the United States means navigating a minefield of challenges, from surging prices to political tensions. Many are now questioning whether the job is worth the low wages, erratic schedules, and repetitive tasks that have plagued the industry for years. In this article, we explore the reasons behind this mass exodus of retail workers, drawing from an online article by The Business of Fashion.

The Pandemic Years: A Double-Edged Sword

The pandemic years exacerbated the already tough conditions faced by retail workers. The nearly 8 million Americans employed in retail had to contend with an array of new challenges. Shoplifting incidents increased, and customers became increasingly irate. Retail employees found themselves managing online orders and dashing through aisles to unlock everyday items like toothpaste.

Before 2020, turnover for part-time retail employees hovered around 75 percent. Since then, it has skyrocketed to 95 percent, resulting in chronically understaffed stores. This surge in demand led employees like Henry Demetrius to become jacks-of-all-trades, performing duties ranging from cashiering to janitorial work, and sometimes even security.

The Weight of the Job

Stories like Demetrius's are not isolated incidents. He, like many others, quit his minimum-wage job to find some respite from the overwhelming stress. Amid rising crime rates and irate customers, it's not uncommon for retail workers to feel like they are "at the mercy of customers."

Amanda Sukhdeo, a 20-year-old cashier, frequently finds herself caught in the crossfire of disgruntled parents facing high prices. The pressure is undeniable, as she rings up purchases, realizing how much customers are shelling out.

Concierge Services going to the car of a client

Global Challenges

While many of these challenges aren't unique to the US, American retail workers often find themselves with fewer job protections and benefits compared to their international counterparts. The situation deteriorated as employees returned to work post-lockdown, with tensions escalating instead of easing.

Reports of "guest-on-associate violence" have surged in the past five years, and shoplifting rates have climbed significantly. Some retailers have even faced political controversies, as seen when Target Corp. pulled LGBTQ-themed merchandise from its shelves after threats from certain customers.

Training and Support

Dealing with these challenges requires adequate training and support. However, a significant portion of lower-level employees has not received proper instruction in de-escalation techniques. The cardinal rule of "the customer is always right" often leaves retail workers conflicted about intervening when customers behave poorly.

Hope on the Horizon: Unionization

As working conditions become increasingly difficult, more US retail employees are turning to the idea of union representation. The pandemic served as a wake-up call, highlighting the need for organized labor to protect workers at their jobs.

Despite retail wages rising slightly faster than in other industries, many employees still earn significantly less than the median US worker. Inflation has eroded much of these wage gains, leading workers to question whether it's worth enduring the headaches for minimum wage.

The US retail industry is at a crossroads. Retail workers face mounting challenges, from customer violence to surging prices, leading to record-high quit rates. The pandemic years have exacerbated these issues, pushing many to question the value of their labor. While some retail employees are receiving better training and support, there's a growing interest in unionization as a means to protect workers' rights. The future of retail work in the United States remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: change is overdue.



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