Support Grows for New Measurements to Assess Retail Industry

As e-commerce has grown, the way the retail industry’s performance is measured and assessed has remained the same.
warehouse worker

And that’s likely not providing an accurate picture, according to the National Retail Federation, which recently backed up calls for a new “Satellite Account” to better measure the industry.

Traditional statistical measurements from the Bureau of Labor Statistics likely aren’t reflecting the whole truth about the industry. Namely, the federal stats don’t separate e-commerce, which boomed over the last year. The government numbers also count “retail” workers as those who work in stores, which misses the thousands of others who work in warehouses and distribution centers to fulfill online orders.

“In recent years, critics have claimed the retail industry is facing an existential crisis, that retail is not growing and that we are entering--if not already in--a retail apocalypse,” National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenzsaid. “This is not an accurate picture, and the analysis driving this conclusion is incomplete. But why has this become the conventional wisdom? The lack of government data that accurately reflects the retail industry is at least partially to blame.”

In need of an update to the industry’s measurements, BLS asked NRF’s Committee on National Statistics to assess the industry standards of productivity measurements. The Committee’s recommendation was to create a labor productivity satellite account to track or analyze different components of the retail industry. According to NRF, satellite accounts pull data together to provide a better picture of economic sectors that cross traditional lines. There are examples from other industries, including health care, outdoor recreation and small business, that BLS could learn.

“NRF has been a strong advocate for better retail data from government agencies and has emphasized the need to capture aspects of the industry’s transformation that are not reflected in current statistics,” Kleinhenz said. “We are hopeful that work on creation of a retail satellite account will begin immediately, and we are prepared to bring industry perspective to assist in the launching of this essential and timely initiative.”

The calls for new industry measures comes as the retail sector is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. BLS’s June figures show employment in the sector was still 411,000 below February 2019 levels, before the pandemic resulted in lockdown measures in the U.S.