The Future of Retail

Did you know the cost of replacing the average hourly retail worker is $25,000? The annual turnover rate for hourly retail workers is 49 percent resulting in more than $1 billion spent on job advertising and hiring costs per annum, according to a study by the Aberdeen Group.

This churn of workers coupled with the low national unemployment rate, currently at 3.9%, offers an opportunity to work with retailers looking to retain and advance their talent. However, much work needs to be done; for instance, the relatively high rate of unemployment for women and people of color, at least double for African Americans in 14 states and the District of Columbia, still signals uneven opportunity. Furthermore, wages have remained stagnant; the median retail hourly wage, according to BLS is $11.17. Despite these challenges, we have a retail industry that needs workers, has projected job growth (despite the potential disruption by automation) and is one of the most accessible sectors in the country where workers can quickly rise through the ranks without needing an advanced degree.

It is just these issues that the National Fund’s retail grantees, Central Iowa Works, SkillUp Washington and the Baltimore Workforce Funder’s Collaborative are addressing. These collaboratives are tackling opportunity gaps for frontline retail workers through the formation of retail industry partnerships. As part of their participation in this work, grantees are engaged with the Hope Street Group’s Retail Opportunity Network (RON) which held their biannual convening in Chicago in late April. Funded through a partnership with Walmart, the RON convened leading nonprofits, community-based organizations and workforce development agencies from across the nation, and examined how the transformation of work in the retail sector will impact their work including policy, technology and employer engagement. Attendees participated in sessions such as a presentation by LinkedIn that outlined how technology will affect the retail industry, stating that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately hold jobs that don’t yet exist, but also indicated a rise in the number of customer experience roles that will likely not be displaced by technology. National Fund President and CEO Fred Dedrick presented on the “Perspectives on the Impact of the Transformation of Work” panel where he discussed the need to work closely with employer partners to identify technological bellwethers and their impact on the skills needs of workers. National Fund grantees found the presentations insightful and Christine Young, Seattle’s Center for Onboarding and Advancement in Retail (COAR) Project Director – a partner of SkillUp Washington stated that “It allowed [her] to connect the dots and better understand the big picture.”


To learn more about the National Fund’s Retail Initiative, please visit our Retail Initiative page, or contact Ana Hageage at

Ana Hageage

-- Program Director, National Fund for Workforce Solutions