Retail Industry and COVID: What is The Jobs Outlook Large Businesses?

The retail industry plays a significant role in the D.C. area economy. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), this sector supports 26 percent of jobs in the District.

Retail industry and large businessesMany well-known retail brands have a presence in the area, although as of late, stores are coming and going which has an impact on local jobs. Let us take a look at how the big retail players in the D.C. area have performed before and during the pandemic, along with what they'll likely look like in the future. 

Before COVID-19

Large-sized brick and mortar retailers in the D.C. area, defined as 500 employees or more, were struggling before the pandemic. This was a national trend not localized specifically to the DMV, but it was certainly impacted. As large companies shifted to e-commerce business models to better compete with online storefronts, the region saw massive store closures for big names, such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Forever 21.

With each passing year, e-commerce sales continuously break records for the previous year, creating struggles for large-scale brick and mortar stores. Prior to the pandemic, downtown D.C had been "reeling from closures and vacancies." Other areas of D.C., along with Virginia and Maryland, have had troubles, but didn't experience the same challenges as downtown.

Well-known brands with strong local presences, such as Walmart, Target, Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Best Buy, to name a few, were already on the growing list of companies widely succeeding in the online space. Amazon expanded its presence in the DMV by selecting Northern Virginia for its massive H2Q project. This planned complex added nearly 2,000 workers to fill a variety of job types.

During COVID-19

Retail operations for the big players took additional hits during COVID-19. As officials in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia closed all “non-essential” businesses, companies were forced to shutter their doors and send employees home. Many businesses, with established online sales models that co-existed with in-person store operations, were able to continue to make sales, but this didn't help local employees keep their jobs. More layoffs and store closures were announced.

Throughout 2020, big chains with storefronts in the D.C. area announced permanent closures. For instance, Brooks Brothers, Lord & Taylor, J. Crew - The Men's Shop, Modell's Sporting Goods, Jos. A. Bank/Men's Warehouse, Neiman Marcus, Pier 1 Imports, GNC, Victoria's Secret, and Tuesday Morning began phasing stores out in the DMV.

Looking toward the future

Jobs in the retail sector don't have an optimistic future through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The federal agency predicts a nationwide loss of roughly 20,000 retail jobs. This is attributed to competition from online sales that are anticipated to lead to declines in employment for brick-and-mortar stores. Last year, e-commerce sales in the U.S. were up a whopping 44 percent—triple the growth experienced in 2019. Once the pandemic ends, these sales will undoubtedly level out, but it's clear online sales will continue to rise exponentially.

Fortunately, there are some bright spots. Commercial construction in D.C. is ongoing. Southeast D.C., Montgomery County, and most of Northern Virginia are expanding commercial spaces, which will create millions of square footage of retail space along with jobs to fill them. When Amazon completes its massive expansion by 2025, it'll add another 25,000 jobs for those seeking work in the D.C. area.

Options to Expand Opportunities

If you find yourself displaced from your retail job, consider looking to expand your opportunities by highlighting your diverse and marketable job skills. For example, you can promote soft skills such as:

  • Good communication abilities
  • Helpfulness/friendly demeanor
  • Multitasking talents
  • Problem-solving capabilities
  • Organizational skills
  • Good time management

These and other highly transferable skills make you a good fit for areas such as customer service, office work, and hospitality and tourism, to name a few potential options. Additionally, as larger companies re-strategize and reimagine themselves, you can pursue additional training to help prepare you for new opportunities emerging in the retail space.

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