About three years ago the biggest retailer in the world, US-based Walmart, embraced smaller-format stores as its superstores began falling out of favour with customers, and signalled it would employ a more rationalised workforce.
This year, the group announced a further reduction in staff as it focused more on e-commerce business. About 18000 people lost their jobs out of a workforce of 2.3 million employees globally.
Similarly, UK-based retailer Tesco cut 1200 staff jobs in its head office after cutting 1 100 jobs in its call centre.
Walmart competitor Amazon has only 34400 staff, although it said in January it expected to add 100 000 people to its workforce in the next 18 months.
Andre Roux, head of the future studies programme at Stellenbosch University, said technology had been a significant disruptor in recent times, but several other issues were influencing the way companies were seeing the labour force.
"Robots can work for up to 40 days in a row for 24 hours a day".
Robots would gradually replace human labour, he said.
"No one owes anybody a job. There's no entitlement. You are only going to be employed if you can make an efficient contribution," said Roux.
The fastest-growing employment was self-employment, as opposed to working for one organisation for many years.