Retail is evolving rapidly, both in stores and behind the scenes, in the warehouses, depots and offices that support stores, or that deliver ecommerce services. What we see only forms a small portion of the wider workforce running store operations, handling supply chain logistics, and managing marketing, finance and the running of the business.
This has only been exaggerated with the shift to online retail, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, ecommerce made up roughly 13.8% of total retail sales. By 2021, that had risen to 19.6%, and now sits at an estimated 21%.
In every part of retail, technology is transforming the business. AI is helping retailers deliver targeted offers and services, both in the store and – at scale – online. Meanwhile, data-driven demand forecasting and automated inventory management are helping retailers optimize their operations, reduce risks and streamline their costs.
New data-driven, digitally enhanced retail (and logistics) sectors demand new skills. The British Retail Consortium, the trade association of the UK retail industry, estimates that digital skills are now needed in 79% of retail roles, yet 62% of business leaders say they can’t find people with the right experience. An industry going through rapid and far-reaching digital transformation is struggling to find the talent it needs to make that work.
Finding quality talent
Of course, recruitment poses difficulties across nearly every sector. In the UK, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Summer 2022 Market Outlook noted that 78% of employers with vacancies report having roles that were hard to fill. The position is particularly challenging in retail. A recent report from Korn Ferry in the US found that 94% of retailers were finding it difficult to fill vacant roles, with 32% mentioning significant challenges.
The seasonality of retail means that high-volume recruiting is a necessity; companies gearing up for the key sales periods need to find, screen and hire thousands of workers within a short timeframe. They won’t all be in the right location or have the skills or experience desired. What’s more, it’s growing ever more competitive. Retailers are often recruiting from a limited talent pool, with candidates looking at other roles even throughout the hiring process. “Ghosting”, where candidates drop out with no warning, is a growing problem. HR managers are often receiving tons of applications, yet those applicants could be chasing a dozen or more jobs simultaneously, and may or may not have the skills and experience to fill the role.
Solutions to the recruitment challenge
What can retail organizations do to get the talent (and especially digital skills) they need to thrive?
Retail organizations can do more to build up local talent pools. By being proactive and maintaining a database of potentially interested candidates, they can get a head start when it’s time to scale up hiring. This pool might include candidates who have previously applied or been referred for jobs, ‘silver medalist’ candidates who just missed out on one, and candidates who have engaged with the company through events, social media or careers enquiries. Candidates who applied for a position in one location could be approached for a position in another, and even company leavers could be added to the pool. Ideally, this process needs to be ongoing, encompassing employee networks, social media activities and real-world forums, conferences and workshops.
Basically, when the holiday season comes along, you need to have a good number of relevant candidates in your talent pool, ready to go.
AI, applied to talent pool data, can help businesses identify top candidates at significantly faster rates. Automating recruitment processes, such as grouping and pre-screening candidates, running checks, scheduling interviews and personalizing messages, can speed up tasks and allow HR teams to focus their energies elsewhere. Chatbots can handle queries and communications that might otherwise slow the process down.
Organizations and workers can be wary of bringing AI into recruitment, but Beamery’s Talent Index found that many respondents in the retail sector see the positives. 36% believe that using AI in recruitment can help companies identify suitable candidates more efficiently, while 40% think it could make the overall process quicker. What’s more, experience shows it works. One of Beamery’s global ecommerce customers has described how using AI-driven tools and a candidate pipeline has seen candidate engagement rise by up to 30% over previous platforms, and helped them source a larger, more relevant talent pool faster.
A holistic approach to talent management
A Talent Lifecycle Management platform gives retail organizations the tools they need to take a more proactive approach to recruitment, evaluating candidates based on the skills they have and their potential to learn new ones, so that they can develop within their careers and fill the key skill gaps within the company. It enables businesses to set up pipelines of ‘warm’ candidates and keep those candidates engaged, so that when the right role or the next wave of recruitment happens, retail businesses can get the employees they need faster.
Some Beamery users have created reports that identify the location of talent, letting them not only align roles based on location but, with the combinations of skills insight and a better understanding of where the availability of talent is low, work out where more engagement and marketing is needed. Going beyond the traditional remit of HR, they can show where there is a potential future workforce, and hence where more investment (such as training facilities and even additional warehousing) could be located.