Record numbers of stores are closing. Ecommerce is disrupting storefronts. Retail is in trouble! Or at least, that’s what the headlines are telling us. But this grim outlook doesn’t do justice to the full picture, which is complex and involves a number of factors, including unmanageable debt and too much retail space.

The full picture also has bright spots. Retail companies are still major employers in the U.S. economy, with 4.6 million Americans working in retail sales and 3.4 million working as cashiers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Together, those two positions account for nearly 6% of all employment in the U.S.

So what’s really going on with retail? And what effect is it having on hiring trends? As traditional roles are evolving, talent needs are changing with them. We analyzed Indeed’s rich collection of job search data to learn more about how hiring is affected and what companies can do to attract talent in this rapidly changing environment.

Where is it hardest to hire retail staff?

Retail is known for having plenty of entry-level jobs, which is likely part of the reason the industry has traditionally been flooded with applicants. But in today’s low unemployment environment, securing talent—let alone top talent—is becoming increasingly difficult.

Bar graph showing the retail talent gaps in U.S. cities.
This graph illustrates the retail talent gaps in U.S. cities by comparing the share of job postings and clicks for retail positions, per 1 million postings. According to the data, the cities worst affected by the retail talent gap are Denver, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

The above chart compares the ratio of retail job postings to the number of clicks for those positions in each of the selected metro areas, showing just how wide talent gaps can be in this industry. Although Denver, Indianapolis and Cincinnati are the worst affected, many other cities are feeling the pinch when it comes to hiring—from snowy Minneapolis to the warmer climes of Houston and Austin.  

While there are a number of factors behind these gaps, tech likely plays a significant role. When I’m talking to employers, they tell me about how tech informs nearly every aspect of the retail business, from supply chain to Point of Sale systems. In other words, all retail positions are becoming tech positions, which means candidates will need the skills to work with POS systems, scanners, tablets and even (at times) complex logistics.

Want to know more? Check out our list of the best retail companies to work at in 2017.

According to a recent Indeed survey, these new requirements may be contributing to the skills mismatch. 70% of retail employers reported having difficulty finding in-store candidates with the appropriate technical experience, while 82% of retail employers expressed difficulty finding candidates with appropriate cross-functional experience.

Making matters even more challenging is the ongoing risk of attrition in retail. Of retail employees who told us they are planning to leave their companies, reasons like pay dissatisfaction, no strong career path and the feeling of being overworked were commonly cited.

Reasons to be optimistic

Even with these factors posing challenges to retail employers, the situation may not be as dire as the headlines might lead you to believe.

According to Indeed data, retail positions actually showed growth in 2017. True, there was less growth for in-store positions - such as cashiers, baggers, and stockroom employees. But behind-the-scenes roles like warehouse, marketing, and tech showed 31% growth, possibly reflecting an increase in e-commerce.

Our research also reveals that retail employees are optimistic about their jobs. An impressive 78% of retail job seekers say they’re likely to stay in the industry over the next year.

78% of retail employees are likely to stay in the industry over the next year.

The way forward

With so much competition for talent, it helps to know who you’re competing against. Think you’re mainly facing off against other retailers? Think again.

A good portion of your competition is actually coming from employers in other industries. Our data shows that people who click on retail job postings aren’t necessarily looking for retail jobs - they’re looking for any job.

In fact, in 2017, 51% of retail job clicks originated from a blank query. This is even true for one of the most quintessentially retail jobs out there—the store associate. And when a blank query is run, retail jobs are in the top 3 most clicked on results, ahead of every other possibility except customer service rep and administrative assistant.

51% of retail job clicks in 2017 originated from a "blank query."

Tips on hiring in the world of recruiting

No doubt retail is undergoing disruption, and this is likely to continue. It’s a challenging time to hire quality retail talent. The good news is that you can tip the odds in your favor with these three recruiting strategies:

1. Knowledge is power, so arm yourself with it
Recruiting is an art, but there’s also a science to finding the right talent. Make sure your job descriptions are clear and inviting (here are some tips on
how to write great ones). And also make sure that you have the right details on what it takes to be competitive in your market. You can get advice on salary information and possible keywords through Indeed’s Hiring Insights tool. The better informed you are, the stronger a position you'll be in to attract talent.

2. Make it as easy as possible for candidates to find you
When competing for candidates, you can’t afford to lose out because of a difficult or outmoded application process. Meet applicants where they are by getting on mobile and streamlining your application to make it simple, quick and intuitive. Try filling it out yourself—if you get frustrated by the process, then chances are your candidates are having the same experience. If so, it's time to take another look at how you can make it faster and more efficient. Treat applicants like your best customers. 

3. Don't forget your  employer brand
The best retailers know how to build and nurture a strong consumer brand.To attract talented applicants, give your employer brand the same level of attention. Don't leave it to others to talk about you online.  Take control of your own story.  Indeed company pages can help you tell your organization’s story and showcase what makes it such a great place to work.