The waitress who knows your coffee order; the dry cleaner who saves your favorite sweater; the bakery you visit every weekend whose manager gives your daughter an extra cookie—those aren’t merely transactions. They’re relationships. Your community.
We can all see, though, that those meaningful roles are imperiled by the forces disrupting virtually every workplace in America. As Ellen Ruppel Shell reports in our cover story, automation doesn’t replace humans as a side effect. Replacing humans is the goal. Right now, more Americans are employed in retail than in any other economic sector—more than in health care and construction combined. But manufacturing used to be America’s No. 1 employer, and look what happened there: jobs lost and factories abandoned. Analysts predict that by 2020, one-fifth of the country’s multitrillion-dollar retail business will have moved to the web, slashing the number of workers needed. And those online jobs are increasingly vulnerable too. The technology is moving fast, Shell writes, but the policy needed to help workers navigate the disruption is far behind.
As we examined the larger, impersonal forces that are transforming retail, it seemed like a good time to recognize a more personal factor in business success: the ways in which many companies nurture their relationships with consumers. We worked with Statista, the respected global research firm, to collect and analyze data across 141 retail categories. The compiled rankings reveal the best customer-service companies. Newsweek has always been committed to deep reporting about American workers, both the challenges they face and the transformations they achieve. This new story builds on our legacy of authoritative coverage.
The automated future is already upon us, and the hope is that we—as a nation and as individuals—can shape it to our advantage. There will likely be losses along the way. For myself, I’d miss the operators at 1-800-CONTACTS, who don’t judge me when I wait until the last minute to place an order (journalists need deadlines), and Lands’ End, where a soothing voice on the phone helped resolve my Hamlet-level indecision over whether those sheets were really sky blue or more like aqua. I don’t want to interact with a bot—and I certainly don’t want to be replaced by one. Robots don’t crave human connection and meaningful work. We do.
Nancy Cooper, Global Editor in Chief