Why I Left My Retail Career for A Life in Digital Marketing

If you’ve watched the news lately, or scrolled through the latest on your choice news app, you’ve likely noticed that multiple retailers are filing for bankruptcy and/or closing up shop. This comes in a big wave at the start of 2017, with 9 major retailers filing for bankruptcy, which is how many filed in the total of 2016.

Retail Bankruptcies Heading Toward Great Recession Highs
“The number of retailers filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is headed toward its highest annual tally since the Great Recession.”

Nine retailers have filed in just the first three months of 2017, according to data provided exclusively to CNBC from AlixPartners consulting firm. That equals the number for all of 2016. It also puts the industry on pace for the highest number of such filings since 2009, when 18 retailers resorted to that action.

The rising number of retail bankruptcies comes as consumers are making more purchases online, and shifting their spending toward travel and other experiences.”

In September of 2016, I left my over a decade-long management career in retail, as these shifts and changes started to become really apparent to me. I began my career in 2004, working part-time at the mall during college. During this time, retail was booming, malls were full of stores, and there were plenty of jobs (and promotions!) to go around. I was a key holder (supervisor) by the age of 19 and ended my career as a Store Manager at the age of 31.

The retail world of management is a very promising career path, and usually, one that people don’t plan on. I certainly didn’t plan on ending up working in retail as I was majoring in theater, but it turned out the hours were flexible, the pay was pretty great (once you hit management anyway), and the benefits were outstanding. Retail management is not easy, and definitely not for the indifferent. Often times managers work 50+ hours to get tasks completed as they are the only salaried employees, and we often work unsupervised as our bosses are typically mobile, reachable by email and phone, and visiting in-store only once or twice a month. So while it’s definitely not for the passive type, you earn what you work for.

For years, I had a plenty high salary, extremely flexible scheduling, and typically about 4 paid weeks off per year. I also had great health insurance, and many different benefits from sick days, to adoption assistance, to stock options, and tuition reimbursement available to me.

Along with the amazing benefits, a career in retail offered a kind of business management development and training that I never knew I’d get. The bosses I was blessed to work under held management training quarterly, upper management meetings weekly, workshops, etc. to continue our development and growth. This development and growth ultimately led to internal promotions, employee retention, and happy management. When I left my last company, there were many people in my immediate network who had been with the company over 10 years, myself being one of them.

I learned so much from my career in retail, about business and about myself, and I made connections and friends over the years that I know I will keep for life.

Now, as I’ve just spoken so highly of my retail career, you might be wondering why I left! I can’t stress enough my gratitude for everyone I ever worked with, and I would never speak ill of the companies I worked for. The truth is, I saw the topic of this article coming. I’d seen it coming since 2008 when everything started to turn downhill, very quickly, and then sort of bobbed up and down, back and forth, ever since the retail market never quite regaining traction. At least not like it used to be.

I heard many of my superiors talk of times of struggle, where the market had been on its ups and downs before, and in retail, sometimes you just have to enjoy the ride. While this had been valid, I sensed a more long-term shift ahead.

I am an older millennial-I grew up with no internet, no cell phones, CDs were introduced in my childhood. I was the last generation to go play outside and come home for dinner when my dad whistled out the back door. Anybody in my age group will be able to relate to the massive technological revolution that has occurred in our lifetime. What I saw, instead of a rollercoaster, was a permanent shift in the way humans interact with shopping malls, as technology continued to shift and take over. The most successful (profitable) retailers are now online. ONLY. Amazon, Alibaba, eBay, etc. are taking the world by storm, and I don’t see it slowing down.

We have had more technological innovation in the past 20 years than the past 100, and the way the world is progressing this isn’t slowing down. While this means various shifts for various industries, what it means for retailers is online shopping. More and more retailers are seeing 30% + of their business from their websites, decreasing traffic in brick and mortar stores.

This gradual shift over the last 15 years or so meant a drastic change in how retailers manage a shop. When I first began my career, there were enough employees (namely money and payroll) to fully staff a store so that a customer could get a personalized shopping experience. By the time I left my retail career, the acceptable employee to customer ratio seemed to have doubled from a 1-10 to a 1-20, or more.

In a shifting world, retailers have to try to adjust as best as they can to a changing environment, and that meant saving money when they aren’t making money. This meant cutting back in a multitude of departments such as benefits, payroll, inventory levels, and the list goes on and on.

What retail employees experience as a result of this shift are longer and harder hours for salaried workers, as payroll costs are cut. Unhappy customers as inventory levels are decreased and fewer employees mean a less personalized approach to customer service. Benefits were lost, such as no raises one year, to no 401k company match the next.*

The weight of this shift made me really look at the big picture. No matter how great my leaders are, or a company is, or how financially sound they may or not be, no one can change the upcoming economic shift.

I made a decision in September 2016, that the previous holiday season was my last, that I would leave my long, and promising career in retail for different opportunities. I went through a tumultuous 6 months where I joined start-up venture and left, applied for many jobs, didn’t get any, and struggled personally and financially. This was not an easy decision, and the results of that decision have been trying-yet rewarding.

I finally landed in a digital marketing firm with my “future fiance” as he calls me! You’ll understand why in a moment…

We realize the future is bright in the digital world. My partner has multiple Google certifications, and lots of experience online in various capacities, while I have my MBA and over a decade in business management to bring to the table. We knew a start-up venture would be challenging (to say the least), but we know we are in a long-term promising field.

If you have a business, and you aren’t online-you are missing out! Every business in the world will need a website, digital advertising, social media presence, email automation, SEO…and the list goes on. We saw the opportunity with our joined skillset, experience, and knowledge, of business and the digital realms, to develop and grow into an extremely successful digital marketing firm.

The road has been a little bumpy, but constantly moving forward. We have worked many 60+ hours weeks, and there will be more. We have struggled financially (hence-future fiance!) and been extremely blessed. We have had personal doubts, and then big successes. Ultimately-we are entrepreneurs! It’s a startup life or us! While it may be trying at times, we believe in the digital world the growth that it certainly brings.

I am fully convinced that this shift will bring long term career happiness and security for me!

*These are general pieces of information, referring to various companies that I worked for over the years, as well as information from other friends working at other retailers. None of these particular things happened at any particular company that I worked for.

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