Digit researchers presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on 9th August in a special session discussing ‘The Future of Retail Work: Power and Voice after the E-commerce Revolution and the Pandemic’.
The session, organised by Digit Visiting Fellow Prof. Chris Tilly and Dr Ödül Bozkurt included four research papers that together examine in different ways the impact that the Covid pandemic has had on the ongoing digital transformation of work in the retail sector.
Prof. Chris Tilly’s paper reported on research involving 17 in-depth qualitative interviews and 100 mini interviews with workers in the retail sector, looking at the use of automation technologies in three key areas: stocking of merchandise, order fulfilment and self-checkouts. The research found that technology adoption was largely motivated by cost cutting strategies that primarily aim to take work away from human workers, although there was also a desire among adopters to change tasks and augment jobs.
Dr Wil Hunt presented findings from his research, co-authored with Prof Jackie O’Reilly, looking at how Walmart had brought forward plans to use machine learning in their hiring system for store-level staff in order to respond to the massive increase in labour demand caused by the pandemic.
Dr Ödül Bozkurt presided over proceedings and Dr Peter Ikeler (State University of New York at Old Westbury) was the discussant.
There was also a contribution from Dr Sean O’Brady (McMaster University) ‘Building institutional power for post-pandemic prosperity in retail: Insights from past struggles in Europe and North America’.