Wage and salary jobs in wholesale trade are projected to grow by 11 percent over the 2002-12 period, compared with the 16-percent rate of growth projected for all industries combined. Growth will vary, however, depending on the sector of the economy with which individual wholesale trade firms are involved. For example, the food service industry is expected to grow faster than the retail food industry as consumers increasingly eat at restaurants instead of eating at home. Therefore, the demand for wholesale trade services for food service establishments will grow faster than that for retail food establishments. Industry trends also will change the composition and nature of wholesale trade employment. Consolidation of the industry into larger firms and the spread of new technology (such as electronic commerce, also known as "e-commerce") should have their greatest affect on the two largest occupational groups in wholesale trade-office and administrative support, and sales and related occupations. However, as firms provide a growing array of support services, many new jobs will be created and the roles of many workers will change.
The trend toward consolidation of wholesale trade firms into fewer and larger companies is likely to remain strong. Globalization and cost pressures should continue to force wholesale distributors to merge with other firms, or to acquire smaller firms. As retail firms grow, the demand for large, national wholesale distributors to supply them will increase. But small, geographically isolated wholesalers may continue to form national alliances that will be more versatile in fulfilling customer orders. The differences between large and small firms will become more pronounced as they compete less for the same customers, and instead emphasize their area of expertise. The resulting consolidation of wholesale trade into fewer, larger firms will reduce demand for some workers, as merged companies eliminate duplicated staff. At the same time, the expansion of customer services should increase demand for related workers. Office and administrative support workers and sales workers may advance to many of these new customer service and marketing jobs. New workers with the necessary education and training will be needed for financial, logistical, or technical positions.
E-commerce allows people and companies to instantly obtain price quotes and product information, make and process transactions, track product delivery, and share marketing information by using online exchanges or Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). However, previous technological improvements have already refined the distribution system in many areas of ordering, fulfillment, and purchasing. Improvements in technology will boost worker productivity as customers purchase goods and track their delivery electronically, and more of the sales activities and customer service will be conducted without sales or customer service workers. Retailers, manufacturers, and other firms may increasingly purchase goods directly from manufacturers as systems for informing other parties of products, availability, and prices become more electronically integrated.
Further automation of recordkeeping, ordering, and processing will result in slower growth for office and administrative support occupations, compared with most other wholesale trade occupations. Use of computerized labels with barcodes allows stock clerks with scanners to immediately record locations, quantities, and types of goods in a computerized inventory management system. Customers frequently order and pay for goods electronically through the Internet or other special systems. Therefore, fewer bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks will be needed as fewer paper transactions are conducted. Despite this new technology, some office and administrative support workers will still be needed to oversee the process and make adjustments when problems occur. These workers will need to be proficient with new computerized systems.
Although the demand for sales workers may be negatively impacted as the selling process becomes more automated, as customer service becomes more important the work of sales workers also will change. Work related to most of the sales that are not automated or transacted electronically will fall to inside sales workers. These sales workers will handle phone calls and solicit new business by telephone or over the Internet, and assist buyers with computerized purchases. However, more of outside sales workers’ responsibilities will involve complex customer service work, such as visiting customers to solicit new business and to maintain good relations, aiding with installation and maintenance, and advising on the most efficient use of purchases.