Online Retail and the impact on regional employment

We all know that the Retail sector is facing a huge disruption in the form of online shopping. It’s been so for a while now and, with the emergence of Amazon in Australia soon, is only likely to become more pronounced.

Digging into the quarterly industry jobs (and in particular the Conus Trend Industry Jobs series which provides a more timely analysis than the original ABS data which is presented as a 4-quarters average) we can see the impact of this disruption on employment in the sector. In August we saw a total employment in the Retail Trade sector in Queensland of 250,800 (which was a decline of 400 from a year ago) but more crucially that figure represents just 10.7% of the total Queensland employment figure…which is the lowest since this data set started back in August 1999. In August 1999 that share sat at 12% (that’s a relative loss of more than 39,000 jobs in retail).

In the course of the last 18 years total jobs in the sector have increased by 56,900 with 33,700 of those coming in the Greater Brisbane area and 23,200 from the Rest of Queensland. However, in the past 6 years, as the online disruption has taken hold, we’ve seen total jobs in the sector rise just 4,900. And it would appear that the impact is being felt more keenly in the regions; Greater Brisbane has seen an increase of 14,900 jobs in that time while the Rest of Queensland has lost 10,000. If we look 4 years ago we see the sector losing jobs overall with Greater Brisbane up just 6,500 while the Rest of Queensland has fallen 15,600. 

Even when we consider the past year we see Greater Brisbane adding 5,600 new retail jobs while the regions lost 6,000. Jobs in the sector in Greater Brisbane are close to all-time highs while in the regions they are almost 16,000 below highs (about 4 years ago). The evidence appears clear; the regions are suffering far more from the online shopping disruption that the capital. It is perhaps not too hard to see why that might be the case. If access to quality, diverse and plentiful shopping (like in Greater Brisbane) is more difficult because of remoteness and size of market (like in most of the regions) then it is hardly surprising to see the traditional bricks-and-mortar stores suffering at the hands of online alternatives.

The story across the regions is not, of course, uniform but it is the case that almost every region has seen a reduction in retail sector jobs since those 2013 highs.  In the past 18 years the only two regions that have seen significant growth in retail sector jobs (despite a massive increase in employment generally) have been the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

The continued disruption of the retail sector, and the inevitable impact that will have on retails jobs, appears destined to impact the regions to a far greater extent than it does the Greater Brisbane area. 

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