The day we celebrate this weekend was first declared a national holiday by President Grover Cleveland in 1894. In truly American fashion, we take a moment as a nation to celebrate the virtues of work…by not working.
Retail was a different kind of work 120 years ago. Stores were small, privately-owned, narrowly-focused in their offerings and far from self-serve. As a shopper, you often dealt directly with the proprietor who would help you select your wares from his/her shelves. That seller had to be expert in buying stock, managing inventory, handling cash and interacting with customers.
By contrast, today most retail volume in the US flows through publicly-owned, multi-store chains, not mom’n’pop stores. Buying is global, centralized and specialized. Stock keeping units (SKU) number in the thousands, not dozens or hundreds. Store footprints have swollen from hundreds of square feet to tens of thousands.
Still, the concept of curating inventory to serve the needs of shoppers remains. The need for goods to be produced, presented and delivered into the hands of consumers hasn’t changed, just the means of doing so.
As we celebrate Labor Day 2014, consider the contributions of retail labor to our comfort, convenience and lifestyles. Retail will continue to evolve as technology, logistics, product offerings and more change. But the human aspect – merchants bringing products into the hands of consumers – remains as vital an aspect of our lives today as it was in 1894.
Posted on 9/1/2014 at 8:00:00 PM