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Ops Special: The revolution of roles in omnichannel retail

Customers are buying less. Margins are getting slimmer. And the fashion retail landscape is changing beyond recognition. Retailers have to innovate, while also playing safe and protecting themselves.

To survive and succeed, their teams must be carefully analysed and restructured around these new business needs and ever-evolving environment.

“The changes we’ve seen in consumer shopping habits over the past decade or so have created a new wave of career paths for retailers,” says Mary Anderson-Ford, managing director of recruitment business at Aquaretail.

“Fashion retail team structures have changed more in the last two years than in the last 50,” says Harveen Gill, managing director at global fashion and retail recruitment firm HGA Group. There is the addition of “innovative tech labs, internal cross-function teams hired to analyse new initiatives”. New positions have been created to meet the needs of the business, especially for speed and efficiency.

There are still places available at the Drapers Operations Forum on 14 June at The Bloomsbury Hotel, London WC1B 3NN

Fran Minogue, managing director at executive search firm Clarity Search, explains: “In today’s tough marketplace there is significant focus on supply chain efficiency and value chain analysis. Companies are saying, ‘Let’s look at every touchpoint, from when a product leaves the factory to when it goes on the shelf. How can we make our supply chain systems more efficient?’”

One position created to do this is that of productivity director, which analyses efficiency on reduced margins.

Minogue says: “These positions are mostly internal hires because they already know the company, its systems and how to get things done across the organisation.”

Team structures

Team structures

Although internal hiring makes the most sense, Anderson-Ford observes, gaining talent from other similar companies is popular now.

She says, “In the early days of the multichannel roles, retailers made internal moves with their existing talent to step across into the newly created positions. Now retailers seek experienced specialists who have already gained expertise from other comparable companies.”

Changes in the industry have also demanded a shift in investment in human resource, and functions that were traditionally fulfilled by a single person have burgeoned in size.

“The ecommerce and international disciplines have gone from one person, to entire teams,” says Anderson-Ford.

Marketing is another area of growth, Gill notes: “There are many different strands of marketing now, hugely segmented and very specific.”

Although there is now more variety of teams within a retail business, the development of systems and technology such as artificial intelligence will render some roles redundant, if it has not already.

“Technology will take up less skilled and younger people’s positions. It will take care of the more mundane tasks. Teams are going to get smaller,” predicts Gill.

Minogue agrees, adding: ”Teams are getting smaller because we have been able to automate processes with technology. This is making the workforce more efficient and effective.”

Having the right skillset for retail today is commensurate with reward.

As Anderson-Ford observes: “Those working within the ecomm world have progressed at a far faster rate than those in buying and merchandising, for example. The fairly limited pool for employers to pick from led to jobseekers in those fields being in very strong positions to negotiate incredible salaries and titles, far above the industry standard 10% to 15%.”

In addition to salary negotiations, Gill says, for positions in general, “Employers are attracting new people with compelling story propositions, or, where the role will take them, upward mobility.”

Anderson-Ford has noticed “an increasing amount of ‘soft benefits’ creeping into remuneration packages. While the salary itself is still the main motivator, I’ve seen some incredibly creative benefits feature in job offers, such as early-finish Fridays, pizza Fridays, on-site massages, a day to move house and bring your dog to work.”

What to look for in new hires at the entry level is flexibility and an open mind

Fran Minogue, managing director at executive search firm Clarity Search

The physical working environment is also becoming more fluid. 

“Working environments are more relaxed now. There is more working from home and flexible working spaces. Hotdesking is becoming the norm – just plug in and go” says Minogue.

On teams where top positions sit out on the floor with everyone else, this a benefit: “They have their ear to the ground and while it is less formal, there is more respect and understanding what member of the team do.”

This flexibility has yet to reach the shop floor, though, notes Anderson-Ford: “Accommodating flexible working is where retail could take a big leap forward. It’s so far behind other industries in that respect, and we lose many of our good female workforce after a certain age, as four-day weeks or 8am-to-4pm days are just not supported by most of my clients when recruiting. Hopefully, abandoning this draconian approach will be the next big revolution in attracting talent.”

Once new talent is lured by pizza and office massages, choosing the right person for the position is the next step.

Minogue advises, “What to look for in new hires at the entry level is flexibility, an open mind, a broad understanding of how business works, a genuine interest in people and customers, an international mind set, an ability to be adaptable and desire to work hard!”

By having a clear strategy for growth and looking at what is needed to survive and succeed in this competitive environment, team needs and necessary positions will become evident.

Gill concludes: “You must have a business with a purpose. If you have a purpose, profit will come.”


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