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Embracing new skills

Job roles are being transformed as retailers adopt a multichannel approach to meeting customers’ needs.

The rise in multichannel retail hasn’t just revolutionised the way consumers shop, it has meant that retailers have had to dramatically restructure their teams and rethink the skills required in prospective employees.

In the past, individuals have worked solely within one channel of the business, whether that be in store, online or with a focus on mobile. However, as the customer journey becomes a multichannel one, job roles are also beginning to have a multichannel focus. Businesses are now looking to fill roles requiring an understanding of each channel and how customers move between them in order to ensure a unified customer experience across all channels.

Graham Lucas, regional director of recruitment consultancy Michael Page Buying & Merchandising, believes online teams need to now become multichannel ones: “Some businesses are establishing separate online teams in order to capitalise on this channel’s growth. However, the more developed multichannel retailers have come to appreciate a truly integrated consumer experience, which requires an integrated support function. Businesses that establish separate teams can potentially put themselves at risk as this internal structure doesn’t always offer a seamless customer experience and can damage company reputation.”

Lucas also states that this shift in team structure is increasing the size of teams in a number of businesses. He says: “We are seeing an increase in businesses investing into their headcount across a breadth of roles including website design, customer attraction, conversion and service.”

Jonathan Hall, founder of ecommerce recruitment company Cranberry Panda, agrees but thinks retailers should capitalise on the talent of existing employees. “The role of multichannel director has been around for a while and they largely come from an online background. Beneath them they create roles that ensure all aspects of marketing, operations, fulfilment and trading take into account the multichannel approach. In many cases people from the existing teams are developed and trained in the multichannel approach,” he says.

But what are the roles that are being created? Hall explains how traditional roles have altered to cover a number of channels. He says: “For example, a role will be created to ensure all the online and offline marketing is delivered in a coherent way. The messages need to match and be delivered at the right times. They will work with the online team and also the offline teams to ensure this happens. Customers increasingly expect the same offers, products and experience online and offline. By changing a job role to take into account the on and offline channels, the customer will receive a consistent message.”

Allie Boddington, head of HR for multichannel at Marks & Spencer, explains how this change of attitude towards recruitment has impacted the high street retailer: “It’s not only multichannel-specific roles that are changing and growing. Multichannel is how we do business at M&S and thinking about all our channels is key to every role from customer assistants through to buyers and supply chain specialists.”

Boddington says Marks & Spencer has seen growth in new areas and new opportunities have arisen in a number of teams including an increase in the number of customer experience roles. Technical knowledge is also required in more specific areas such as mobile and tablet developments as well as analytical fields in order to inform the business and assist in trading and creative decisions moving forward.

With multichannel being a relatively recent shift for companies, individuals with an expertise in these areas are often widely sought after but with such a small pool of availability retailers have to look at other ways of getting this knowledge into the business. Lucas explains: “There is not simply an established supply of candidates who have done the same role previously. Businesses have to be more open-minded about where people will come from. This process starts with understanding what the main requirements are and what transferable skills may be useful within this role. For example, a client looking to hire an online merchandiser for a role in its online team, who has a good depth of experience, may have to settle for a traditional merchandiser who brings knowledge of the similar customer base and product area and then train and develop their online trading experience.”

Boddington agrees that the key is training: “Previous technical experience is advantageous but not always necessary – it’s often more about the individual’s drive and ability to learn. There are a range of roles in multichannel because it’s all about the customer, not just about IT.

We look for people who have the ability to embrace change and who are energised by retail and the customer.”

Whether an individual is coming from an in-store or online background, the key factor is an openness and willingness to learn new technologies and skills and embrace the multiple channels that consumers now shop on. By bringing roles into the team that work across channels, the business can have a much clearer, single view of the customer and integrate the channels to optimise the shopping experience. This is relevant for all roles from customer service to merchandising and marketing as well as the more technical positions.

Hall notes another shift, which is seeing individuals in ecommerce roles moving into director level positions: “At the senior level we are seeing an increasing number of ecommerce directors becoming multichannel directors and even taking on wider retail roles. Hash Ladha at Oasis is a good example as he became deputy managing director for Oasis recently and came from an online background. Also Dan Lumb at Reiss started as ecommerce director and is now responsible for multichannel strategy and even some retail operational functions.” 

As retailers look forward, roles are sure to continue to change as the business model does. Boddington believes this will centre on innovation and inspiration. She explains that over the next few years there will be the introduction of “more innovation roles particularly on mobile and tablets and an increase in web development activity as the customer journey evolves creatively to deliver more inspirational interactions.”

Multichannel is having a clear impact on roles and this shows no signs of slowing down. For those candidates who embrace the new era of multichannel the future might mean moving into a more cross-channel-focused role and those that offer that skillset are likely to be snapped up. 

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