Digit Debates: Technology & Transformations in US Retail

5 May 2021


Watch below


Retailers have rapidly adopted new digital technologies, most visibly in expanded e-commerce, but also in less visible ways within stores, supply chains and customer relations. In this talk, Professor Chris Tilly and Professor Chris Benner consider the broader workplace implications of the growth of e-commerce, particularly the recent grocery and meal e-commerce surge. What other tech-driven changes are occurring in store-based work? How are all these changes reshaping power relations, wages, and working conditions within and across retail segments?  Will these trends continue beyond the pandemic and, if so, to what extent? And what options exist to improve working conditions for the workers affected by these dramatic changes?


Chris Benner

Dr. Chris Benner is the Dorothy E. Everett Chair in Global Information and Social Entrepreneurship, and a Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  He currently directs the Everett Program for Technology and Social Change and the Institute for Social Transformation.  His research examines the relationships between technological change, regional development, and the structure of economic opportunity, focusing on regional labor markets and the transformation of work and employment.  He has authored or co-authored seven books (including the forthcoming Solidarity Economics, 2021, Polity Press) and more than 75 journal articles, chapters and research reports.  He received his Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

Chris Tilly

Chris Tilly is Professor of Urban Planning and Sociology at UCLA. He holds a joint Ph.D. in Economics and Urban Studies and Planning from MIT.  For over thirty years, Tilly has conducted research on bad jobs and how to make them better.  His books include Half a Job: Bad and Good Part‑Time Jobs in a Changing Labor Market, Stories Employers Tell: Race, Skills, and Hiring in America, The Gloves-Off Economy: Labor Standards at the Bottom of America’s Labor Market, and Are Bad Jobs Inevitable?  Tilly’s recent work on retail jobs includes the award-winning book Where Bad Jobs are Better: Retail Jobs across Countries and Companies and the award-winning articles “Working in large retailers: A US-France comparison” (in Work, Employment, Society) and “Beyond ‘contratos de protección’: Strong and weak unionism in Mexican retail enterprises” (in Latin American Research Review).  His current research includes ongoing examination of how implementation of digital technologies is transforming US retail jobs, as well as separate research on informal worker organizing around the world.

Related reading

Benner, C., Mason, S., Carré, F. & Tilly, C. (2020) ‘Delivering Insecurity: E-commerce and the Future of Work in Food Retail, UC Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation

Benner, C., Johansson., Kung, F. & Witt, H. (2020) ‘On Demand and on-the-edge: Ride-hailing and Delivery Workers in San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz Institute for Social Transformation

Carré, F., Tilly, C., Benner, C. & Mason, S (2020) Change and Uncertainty, Not Apocalypse: Technological Change and Store-Based Retail, UC Berkeley Labour Center

Carré, F. & Tilly, C. (2021) What it will take to improve retail jobs, MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research