Two people working in the clean room at the Saab ETIC Building.

The Retail Workforce

The Retail Workforce in a Changing Competitive Landscape: The University of Massachusetts Retail Study

Project Leaders: Chris Tilly, Department of Regional Economic and Social Development

Dr. Françoise Carré, Research Director, Center for Social Policy, University of Massachusetts Boston

Research Personnel

Professor Chris Tilly, Ph.D., in Economics and Urban Studies and Planning, MIT. Tilly has done extensive research on service industries and entry-level work in the United States.

Dr. Françoise Carré, Ph.D., in Urban Studies and Planning, MIT. Carré has studied work and labor market intermediaries, particularly in service industries, in the United States and Europe

Brandynn Holgate, doctoral student in Public Policy, University of Massachusetts Boston. Holgate has been involved in a wide range of public policy-related research.

The retail industry and its workforce are being transformed by dramatic market shifts and rapid technological change. At the level of the market, competition in both food and consumer electronics retail sectors has been revolutionized by powerful new entrants, online sales, and the growing role of a small number of industry leaders. New information technology, and in the case of consumer electronics much shorter product cycles, have also transformed job requirements. To better understand the consequences of these changes, the Center for Industrial Competitiveness and Center for Social Policy, in collaboration with the National Retail Federation, are conducting a study of work organization and workforce issues in food and consumer electronics retailing. To better understand the consequences of these changes, this study focuses on turnover and retention, training, service levels, and product knowledge in the frontline workforce in the food and consumer electronics sectors. The study will explore what is changing in the industry and how companies are developing selection, training, compensation, and supervision strategies to cope with these changes. By gathering information directly from people who are implementing and experiencing changes in the industry, including industry association staff, company executives, store-level managers, and employees, the study will generate well-informed and practical recommendations for preparing and managing the retail workforce of the future. This study is part of a larger multinational effort examining the retail workforce in Denmark, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom as well as the United States, and comparing new developments in these countries. This study is funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, the largest foundation entirely devoted to funding social science research.

Diana Denham, master's student in Urban Planning and Latin American Studies at UCLA. In addition to this project, Denham is working on “Employment and regional development in the United States and Mexico.”

Working papers (download pdf files)

What’s happening to retail jobs? Wages, gender, and corporate strategy.” Françoise Carré, Brandynn Holgate, and Chris Tilly. Paper presented at the Labor and Employment Research Association Annual Meeting, January 2006.

"The Changing World of Work in Retail Trade." Françoise Carré, Brandynn Holgate, and Chris Tilly. Report to the National Retail Federation, December 2007.

"Continuity and Change in Low-wage Work in U.S. Retail Trade", Françoise Carré, Brandynn Holgate, and Chris Tilly. April 2008.

“Retail jobs in comparative perspective.” Françoise Carré, Chris Tilly, Maarten van Klavern, and Dorothea Voss-Dahm. In Jérôme Gautié and John Schmitt, eds., Low-Wage Work in the Wealthy World. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, forthcoming.