Disintermediation was the buzzword of the internet during the 1990s but the trend on cutting out the middle man continues as the number of hands touching an item between the manufacturer and the end consumer continues to shrink.
Amazon is already sourcing products directly from factories in China for its own goods. It is also marketing to factories to send inventory directly to its US warehouses. JD.com can achieve 1-day shipping for most of China’s large population centres, IKEA is investing in progressively more automation. Meanwhile the pressure on brick and mortar stores not least from rents, local taxes, payroll and pensions put them at a major disadvantage.
One of the reasons there is so much capital being sunk into autonomous driving is because online retailers wish to also control the last mile of the delivery process whether that is to fly the item in by drone, or have an autonomous vehicle drive it up to the door. That represents a potent threat to employment at some stage but not imminently. The impact of malls being denuded of tenants and the jobs they provide, while warehouses become progressively more automated is a more urgent issue.
Over the medium-term, that could eventually contribute to an uptick in unemployment which could prove to be a lead indicator for the next recession.
Back to top