America is facing a 'retail refugee crisis' as thousands of stores shut down and millions of people become the 'blacksmiths of their era'

The retail landscape looks like it’s about to get rougher for everyone — especially those on the lowest rung of the ladder.

Retail is the largest employer in the US, employing an estimated 4.6 million people in full- or part-time jobs.

But estimates also say that the sector has shed more than 89,000 jobs in general merchandise stores alone between last October and May of this year. At last count, over 6,375 stores have been announced for across the country this year.

It’s this shedding of jobs that’s about to create what retail-industry consultant Doug Stephens is calling a “retail refugee crisis” in an article in Business of Fashion.

It’s not hard to envision a store of the future where there are very few employees, if any at all.

Automation is spreading into more and more places in stores, from ringing up customers at the cash register to stocking product. The phenomenon also extends outside of the store itself, with robots that can do fulfillment and order processing both for stores and for going directly to customers. Automation could also reasonably apply to driving trucks and performing simple customer-service tasks.

“Retail workers will become the blacksmiths of their era,” Stephens wrote.

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