Best columns: Business
The real problem with retail
Don’t blame all of the retail industry’s woes on Amazon, said Barry Ritholtz. While “there’s little doubt” the internet giant has disrupted brick-and-mortar chains, a bigger problem is that American stores are simply “too big, boring, and expensive.” America’s 7.3 square feet of retail space per capita is the most of any nation’s; compare that with 1.7 square feet per capita in Japan and France. The number of U.S. shopping centers has actually grown by more than 23 percent since 1995, while the population has grown by less than 14 percent. This retail construction boom now looks woefully out of step with consumer tastes. “Sport shopping, retail therapy, and conspicuous consumption offer less prestige today” than they did in the 1990s. Today’s consumers “want experiences more than just ‘stuff.’” A few savvy retailers have learned this lesson. Consider the Apple Store, which moves more goods at retail than any other store in the world, some $5,500 in annual sales per square foot. The same iPhones and iPads can be purchased at Best Buy, or even on Amazon, but more than 1 million visitors still trek to Apple Stores worldwide every day. We’re seeing a “generational realignment” in how consumers spend money. The bad news for retailers is that “we are probably closer to the beginning of that transition than the end.”
The risks of worker burnout
American companies may be on a growth streak, but their employees “are overworked, burned out, and dissatisfied,” said Dan Schawbel. Workers are doing more than ever and not getting paid for it. Employee productivity increased by 21.6 percent between 2000 and 2014, yet wages grew by only 1.8 percent. At the same time, the traditional 9-to-5 workday has all but vanished. Gallup estimates that the typical salaried worker now puts in about 47 hours a week, while technology like smartphones and email means employees are expected to be available 24/7. Workers feel like they can’t take a break, either. “More than half left vaca tion time unused in 2015 because they couldn’t find the time to take it, due to a heavy workload.” And most employers have little idea how much burnout is affecting their workforce. When asked whether their employees have a balanced life, 67 percent of employers said yes, while about half of their employees said no. Burnout is responsible for as much as half of all employee attrition, according to a recent study, yet many companies “aren’t investing in solving the problem, even though it costs thousands of dollars to replace each employee lost.” If companies don’t find a way to address the burnout crisis now, they will pay the price later.