For many of the millions of workers who toil in the nation's shops, malls and supermarkets, the changing face of retail isn't so pretty.

Most retail workers are earning less than they were 35 years ago after adjusting for inflation, and experts say they are increasingly being asked to accept unpredictable schedules so retailers can get the most work out of them at the lowest cost.

Even though the economy has been slowly improving, many expect those trends to continue because of steep competition to offer lower prices and a continued weak job market for low-wage workers.

"I don't think there's going to be any pressure for retailers to offer significantly better wages or benefits than they're offering now," said Jack Plunkett, founder and CEO of the market research firm Plunkett Research.

The industry also is working feverishly to respond to the growing importance of online retail, but for lower-level workers, some say that's only leading to more lower-paid jobs, in fields such as call centres and warehousing.

"Online doesn't really change the types of jobs we have in the country; it just changes how you get the goods you bought," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

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