How e-commerce lays off workers

Per Carolina Gagliano, Diego Romano, Daniel Bare Sanda and Fabiana Carl S. Campelo

> This article integrates discussions on the expansion of the process of digitalization of the economy, especially with regard to the platform for the work of companies, in Brazil. They are published weekly on Other words and are part of two issues of the Revista da Faculdade do Dieese de Ciências do Trabalho. The publication is the result of a partnership with the Network for the Study and Monitoring of Labor Reform (REMIR) and the Brazilian Association for Labor Studies (ABET). Read the other articles in this series about various aspects of precarious work.

> Original title: E-commerce and the impact on workers


Since 1995, when e-commerce was launched in Brazil, the segment has grown tremendously, fueled by the need for social isolation caused by the pandemic and the changing spending habits of Brazilian families.

Data from a survey conducted by Ebit/Nielsen on Brazilian e-commerce proves this behavior, showing that in the last ten years, revenues from digital commerce in Brazil have grown from R$18.7 billion to R$87.4 billion, a growth of 367 %. In 2020, there were 543 million online orders. The result of this research also estimates that sales in 2021 will reach R$ 110 billion, which represents an increase of 26% compared to the previous year. Only in the first half of 2021 e-commerce in Brazil, it set a sales record, reaching R$ 53.4 billion, which represents a growth of 31% compared to the same period of the previous year. So, although the share of sales from e-commerce in total trade between 2019 and 2020, it almost doubled, from 5.4% to 10.0%.

In this context, large retail chains are investing in the expansion of electronic platforms. Also according to Ebit/Nielsen, in 2020 orders of this type increased by 43% compared to the previous year. Transformations in retail, with the intensification of digital shopping, are obviously happening in parallel and as a consequence of the growth of users’ access to the digital environment, through computers, pills and mobile phones. Thus, in 2020, sales via mobile devices represented 55.1% of total transactions made via virtual retail.

The intensification and growth of e-commerce seems to be a path of no return, given that the quest to sell to more and more people is a major strategy of retailers, for whom online sales represent a significant reduction in operating costs and business power.

For the consumer, e-commerce means a store “open 24 hours a day”, an opportunity to research, compare prices, advantages, services and access to a wider range of products, often at more attractive prices. . On the other hand, it has a big disadvantage because there is no professional who understands the business to help you with your purchase, which is why you have to devote much more time to shopping. Furthermore, given the great socio-digital inequality that exists in Brazil, this means that a significant part of the population is excluded from this process, either because they do not have the necessary instruments (computers, pills and cell phones), have a low-quality Internet connection or lack the necessary skills to use digital media1.

For a physical store seller, sales on the line this may mean more work and reduced compensation, since his/her travel is dedicated to physical sales, and part, or even all, of his/her salary consists of commission that he/she no longer receives. The seller attracts the public, visits, clarifies doubts, encourages consumption, but does not necessarily have to be paid for the work, because the customer can buy the same product online – via mobile phone or tablet within the store itself.

It is known that in some companies the seller cannot cover the price of the virtual store, nor sell the same product on the Internet. In other companies, he/she manages to sell the product on the website, as if he/she were the customer making the purchase. However, in this case, since the seller ends up with the customer’s documents, such as a credit card, this makes him/her vulnerable in case the customer’s financial information is stolen. Even if everything goes well and a sale happens, this sale – made through the store’s website – will not be included in the physical store’s goals and the worker will not receive the corresponding commission.

The current context of increased online sales clearly indicates the need for an increasingly secure relationship regarding the use and processing of personal data, with the right to privacy and data protection of users, through transparent practices and security in relations with consumers.

But it is not only electronic platforms that have an important influence on “floor” shops. There are several other technological changes that could reduce employment, as they allow businesses to expand with fewer and fewer workers. Some international technology fairs are already exhibiting robotstwoapplications from tablet or startups artificial intelligence for use in physical stores, with the aim of closing deals or serving customers.

These innovations present tantalizing opportunities for retailers and, at the same time, raise troubling questions from a societal perspective about the future of the retail profession. Will it be the end of the seller’s job?

Despite the fact that many entrepreneurs in the profession emphasize that technology will not be a complete replacement – but that it can reduce the functions, supplement or change the tasks of trade workers – it is already clear that there will be a vacancy of traditional trade occupations. future, not too far. Some of these changes are already underway. This is the case, for example, with ATMs.3 without human presence in stores or supermarkets in the US and European countries, which have recently been adopted in Brazil. In fact, as seen in the banking sector in the 1990s, when ATMs took the place of workers.

From the consumer’s point of view, some questions are also raised because he/she starts to take over the work that was previously done by the workers: how to analyze the product, compare prices, pack, deliver the products to scanneramong other tasks.

Given this scenario and the huge scope for growth of e-commerce, it is important to bring this debate together with trade workers, the trade union movement and public power to seek new strategies of action to meet the ongoing transformations. Actions to ensure that new work configurations, imposed by the way capital uses technology, are regulated to guarantee the social protection of workers as well as consumers.

In this context, trade unions, as representatives and defenders of the demands and rights of the working class, have a fundamental role. It is necessary that the fruits of innovation are shared by workers and society as a whole, creating new employment opportunities with dignified work. At the same time, it is necessary to establish a new agenda that reaffirms social rights and that values ​​act as an indispensable tool for economic growth with the distribution of income, the reduction of social, regional, racial and gender inequalities and the preservation of the environment, according to the development project that is changing the Brazilian reality.

1 INFORMATION CORE AND COORDINATION OF ITEM NO. Digital inequalities in urban space: a study on Internet access and use in the city of São Paulo. Notebooks, Sector studies. São Paulo: Brazil Internet Steering Committee, 2019.

2 Robots now know how to sell. Is the end of the sales profession? The Washington Post, New York, January 24, 2017. Available at: – seller-3hicit3orf64skt9gmzz224uk/. Accessed: 11/11/2021

3 Supermarket cash registers may become obsolete. the newspaper, São Paulo, June 19, 2017. Available at: / 06/1893959-supermarket-boxes-may-become-obsolete.shtml. Accessed: 11/11/2021

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