Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



Retail work is undergoing significant change in the United States. To explore these changes, and their impacts in terms of turnover, skill levels, and other key workforce variables, we conducted 18 case studies of retail businesses. We spoke to employees from top corporate executives to frontline employees, visited stores, and reviewed HR statistics. This paper summarizes major findings from the study.

We start by stating the study’s key questions, principal findings from public data sources, and the study design. We then review field findings on patterns in job quality across four dimensions (schedules, compensation, duties, and turnover/training/mobility). We identify two current strategic thrusts by retailers—cost-cutting and enhancing service/quality/variety—and examine how these strategic approaches have affected the same four dimensions of job quality among retailers in our sample. We zoom in on issues involved in communicating change within retail organizations. We briefly contrast our findings with those in parallel studies underway in five European countries and Mexico. We close with some reflections on the sustainability of current U.S. retail strategies, and speculate briefly about likely long-term shifts in strategy and job quality in retail.


This research project was funded by a grant of the Russell Sage Foundation to the Center for Social Policy, J. W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston and the Center for Industrial Competitiveness and Department of Regional Economic and Social Development, University of Massachusetts Lowell.



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