The idea of e-commerce — buying and selling things over the Internet — emerged during the first “dot-com” boom and bust in the 1990s. Now it is finally taking hold, and the result is having important consequences in many sectors of the retail industry.
The New York Times reports that between 2010 and 2014 e-commerce grew by an average of $30 billion each year. Now, average annual growth has increased to $40 billion.
Some economists have declared we are at a “tipping point” as traditional retail stores operated by Sears, Sport Chalet and the like are closing their doors and e-commerce titans like Amazon.com are eating up more and more market share. Analysts predict that 25 percent of America’s shopping malls will close within a few years.
So far, the grocery industry has been relatively immune to this trend. After all, people still enjoy the experience of browsing through the aisles and especially selecting their own fruits and vegetables.
But that isn’t stopping e-commerce firms from trying to push their way into this potentially lucrative sector.
For years now, major food retailers have been trying to get into the grocery delivery business through services like Kroger’s ClickList and Safeway’s Online Shopping, with additional options for customers to order ahead and pick up their groceries at existing stores. Tech firms like Google, Peapod, HelloFresh and Uber are also in the mix, providing “personal shoppers” who bring food from the supermarket to the doorstep.
Most recently, Amazon.com — which has become so huge it seems to not care whether it will ever be profitable — rocked the industry by purchasing Whole Foods for nearly $14 billion. The company promises to turn its new brick-and-mortar stores into urban distribution centers.
The changes can be dizzying for those observers who look away for even a moment. But the big question for union members is how they will affect wages and other standards in the grocery business.
The answer to that question isn’t clear. At the recent Food & Drug Conference, a delegation from UFCW Local 99 heard industry analyst Meredith Adler say she is skeptical about the Amazon-Whole Foods deal. “For those stores to become e-commerce hubs makes no sense,” she said.
Also, workers at some of the companies at the forefront of the e-groceries trend have contracts negotiated by the UFCW.
Our union is not sitting by as developments continue to unfold. Our challenge is to organize workers at e-commerce companies of all sizes to ensure wages and benefits aren’t weakened for our members and others employed in the retail industry.
Our success depends on the solidarity and activism of everyone in our union. Please contact your union representative for information on how you can help.