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How Ecommerce Answers the Ongoing Labor Shortage

Miva CEO Rick Wilson explains how the ecommerce industry is uniquely suited to meet modern employee expectations and redefine work. 

By Miva | June 8, 2022
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After months of uncertainty, the April 2022 jobs report offered some great news for the economy and job seekers, with 428,000 new jobs added for the month. However, worker participationfigures presented a distressing counterpoint, still stuck near the lowest levels in over a decade. With millions unemployed amid  a labor shortage with no clear end in sight, employers may need to adapt wages, hours, and work culture in order to draw talent.  As Rick Wilson suggests, the ecommerce industry may be uniquely poised to lead the way out of the labor shortage and to redefine work for the next era. 

What’s causing the ongoing labor crisis?

One of  COVID-19’s many impacts upon American public life has been a grand reassessment of which job sectors are “essential” and desirable for workers. Returning to a service or retail job in the wake of COVID-19 may not be worth the low wages those jobs traditionally pay, especially as pandemic risks remain unresolved. Many workers who held service-sector jobs prior to the pandemic have taken the opportunity to make a shift in their careers by expanding their skillset, returning to school, or moving to a higher-paying industry. Older Americans also took the opportunity for accelerated buyouts and retirements—one report showed that over 3 million Americans retired early due to the pandemic. All this adds up to a shortage of available workers to hire for traditional service and retail positions. 

As Rick points out, “Remote work opportunities have radically changed options for workers, and this has really opened people’s eyes to different ways of working and living. While the current reluctance of workers to accept entry-level jobs can be pinned on the pandemic, in terms of labor trends  COVID-19 is really just the catalyst of things that have been brewing for a generation.” 

Amazon’s massive workforce problem reveals challenges for digital industries

The new workforce preference for remote jobs means that businesses that operate primarily online have a clear advantage and access to a far more diverse talent pool. But changes in labor trends and worker expectations have crystallized so quickly that even many major online sellers are buckling under the pressures of supporting a workforce—including Amazon. 

Amazon is the world’s biggest ecommerce employer. With over 1 million workers, it’s second only to Walmart in U.S. corporate employment, demonstrating the breadth of opportunity in ecommerce work—while highlighting the hurdles. Amazon faced a series of workplace scandals on the heels of the pandemic, including claims of “intolerable and unsafe working conditions” around  hours, breaks, and COVID-19 safety. 

“What many are missing is that the health of the workforce is the success of the business, full stop.” says Rick. “We can't just say ‘everyone for themselves’ because we live in an integrated world and run integrated businesses. I'm not just talking about  COVID-19 and vaccines. I'm talking about setting your team up for success by helping them to be healthy, strong, confident, heard, and unified.” 

No other ecommerce business matches the scale of Amazon, but every employer will be affected by the workers’ rights movement which is springing up around Amazon’s issues. Increased communication, safety, compensation, and culture will become imperative to businesses looking to overcome the labor shortage—and ecommerce businesses already have a leg up. The efficiency and automation tools which power the 5 trillion dollarecommerce industry are phenomenally well-suited to maximizing individual potential and company productivity. 

“Right now,” says Rick, “it is the ecommerce industry’s time to define the workforce culture of the future. We've been employing remote workers now for a generation. We need to show the world how to work best.” 

Ecommerce jobs are a powerful alternative for conventional retail workers

In the early days of the internet there was excitement around the possibility of operating businesses from any location at any time. Today, that hypothetical has become a reality.  The stress test of 2020 resulted in many companies determining that working from home is a viable option. CEOs across a diverse set of industries are pondering making the shift to remote permanent—management consulting firm McKinsey & Company predictsthat we’ll see as many as three to four times the number of remote workers as before the pandemic. But the ecommerce industry has long been ahead of this curve.  

“If you talk to someone who's worked in ecommerce, the odds of them having worked remote for the last 10 or even 20 years are far higher than someone in corporate America,” Rick says. “And that means we as an industry have figured out how to find the right talent for the right role, no matter where they are located, from the top to the bottom of the organization.” 

Of course, not all ecommerce jobs are non-physical, but data-fueled management of every department from customer service to warehouse operations means employers can carve out extremely specific, flexible workflows which account for worker health, communication, conflict resolution, and childcare needs. The end result is a work culture and environment that supports employees thoroughly, and makes working worthwhile. 

The ecommerce industry is actually the antidote to the labor crisis,” Rick suggests. “It’s at the forefront of marrying technical skill with creative ingenuity. Skills can be taught, and creativity can be nurtured...it’s a win-win for everybody involved." 

Rick recommends that workers leverage the ability to create unique tech career paths, and focus initially on skill training. “Whether you're a techie and want to work with the latest JavaScript frameworks, or you’re a developer and want to dig into machine learning data sets, or you’re just a businessperson who wants to understand culture-building and how to put together a thriving team that works in all 50 states, now is the time to focus on things you can do from anywhere.” 

Rick concludes that the most basic characteristics of ecommerce inherently provide workers with the flexibility and ingenuity they’ve come to expect from employers—and that by investing in an ecommerce model, businesses can overcome the challenges of the modern labor shortage. 

“The idea at the core of ecommerce,” Rick concludes, “is that digital ecommerce automation makes it possible to do more with less, and that should be liberating for workers. I know our industry will continue to be an incredible option for workers into the new labor era we are currently defining every day.” 

To hear Rick’s full talk about ecommerce and the ongoing labor crisis, stream Episode 45 of the Dragonproof Podcast here. 

This blog was originally published on July 27, 2021 and updated on June 8, 2022. 

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Author's Bio

Miva

Miva offers a flexible and adaptable ecommerce platform that evolves with businesses and allows them to drive sales, maximize average order value, cut overhead costs, and increase revenue. Miva has been helping businesses realize their ecommerce potential for over 20 years and empowering retail, wholesale, and direct-to-consumer sellers across all industries to transform their business through ecommerce.

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