The newest report conducted by the American Booksellers Association and the consulting firm Civic Economics about the negative impact of Amazon on bricks-and-mortar retailers and local communities estimates that in 2021 the movement of dollars to Amazon and away from retailers displaced 136,000 shops occupying 1.1 billion square feet of traditional commercial space. The report further noted that while Amazon has added thousands of warehouse jobs, that number is only about half as many jobs as the 1.7 million retail jobs that were lost to Amazon’s expansion.
The report, "Unfilled: Amazon and American Retail Landscape," also finds that the construction of Amazon warehouses away from downtown commercial areas further drains resources from shopping districts. “The ongoing displacement of retail activity from traditional commercial spaces to outlying industrial parks is an emerging crisis for American cities and towns,” the report reads.
“American cities have been slow to grasp the challenge posed by this movement,” the report continues. “Even now, municipalities and counties rush to subsidize Amazon facilities and construct elaborate new infrastructure to service them, even as existing infrastructure designed around traditional commercial districts loses its supporting tax base.”
The loss of downtown stores contributes to a drain on local economies. Building on previous studies, the new report finds that while independent bookstores recirculate about 29% of the revenue they generate within the local community through such things as salaries and buying supplies, chain stores (Barnes & Noble) recirculate 14% of sales and Amazon less than 6%.
"Unfilled" notes that the negative affect of Amazon’s expansion accelerated during the pandemic as online sales soared and Amazon expanded at a rapid clip (a pace which the company has recently dramatically slowed down). The 136,000 retail shops that the study estimated were displaced in 2021 was almost double the 73,000 shops that were displaced in 2019.
Civic Economics and the ABA have been working together on reports analyzing the impact of Amazon on the American retail landscape since 2016. The first study, "Empty Storefronts" (January and September 2016), was the first to quantified the displacement of retail from storefronts to warehouses, and provided state level estimates of shops, square footage, and employment lost to the growth of online retail. A follow up in 2018 added an estimate of the total sales and use tax revenue lost by state across the nation.
"This report shows the costs and consequences to communities as Amazon continues to box out small business. Our communities benefit in countless ways when we shop local and this report makes clear how much is at stake when we don’t,” said ABA CEO Allison Hill in a statement. “The impact is so much more than just an empty storefront when a business closes. Our choices matter, where we spend our money matters, and our communities matter."