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Q&A: CTPartners’ Sarah Lim on the impact of multichannel on recruitment

With multichannel retail continuing to dominate the agendas of fashion retail businesses, demand for candidates with technical skills is fierce. Here, Sarah Lim, the head of CTPartners’ UK retail & consumer practice talks to Drapers about the challenges facing recruitment in this area.   

A recent study by Green Park Interim and Executive Search found that more than 60% of retailers have experienced difficulty recruiting in this area. Why is this, and what skills are they looking for?  

It’s all about how are you going to trade more effectively online. So at the softer end of the spectrum this could be social media and then at the harder end it is the analytics around how you drive customer loyalty, how you measure and track the number of times people come onto your site, whether they transact, and if they don’t how you build loyalty through promotional campaigns.

Are fashion retailers looking to outside industries to find the best candidates, and if so, which ones?

It’s a combination. They’re coming from the classic online retail businesses such as Ebay and Amazon and beyond that retailers are looking at companies like Hilton (hotel chain) where people have come in through a CRM background, and some of the travel businesses that specialise in online bookings like Expedia, or Lastminute.com.

With international retailing now also a key theme for UK fashion retailers and brands, how has this impacted the profile of multichannel candidate that they are looking for?

It just opens up the playing field to such a greater extent. Inevitably when you’re looking at online retailing the globe is now your marketplace - there aren’t constraints around where you trade. So in terms of skills, candidates can come now from the US market, from Asia, from wherever. I think it’s a question of global mobility, you’ve got transportable skills now that could be applicable in any territory.

What does this all mean for retailers’ recruitment?

It’s an adjustment. The workforce in a traditional retailing environment is going to change over the next few years. Inevitably if the future is going towards a redistribution away from a significant store portfolio and an increase in the amount of sales online, and equally your UK business is shrinking and your international business is growing online, you can then see how the profile of your actual workforce will need to transform. The size of the machine you would need to support the online trading platform is going to grow because the competition will become more sophisticated.

Is there a lot of movement as a result of this need?

These skills are in such demand people are moving dramatically more quickly. You’ve only got to notice moves like Simon Forster moving from Debenhams.com to Selfridges, and Robin Terrell switching from House of Fraser to run Tesco’s online business.

We had a dinner for about 25 retail multichannel directors just before Christmas, and about half of them had moved [jobs] within the last 12 months. They’d been head hunted. They are getting so many calls at the moment.

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