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Data, analytics and social media: The new roles in retail

The retail workforce is changing, as technological changes and shifting demands push new skills to the fore. Drapers takes a look at some of the areas that are leading the change.

The British Retail Consortium found last month that UK retailers employ around 3% of the total workforce in roles that didn’t exist five years ago, while the Fashion Retail Academy pinpointed social media, analytics, online marketing, technology, ecommerce, customer service and operations as skills that will grow in importance over the next five years.

Employees from Asos, Finery London, Marks & Spencer and PrettyLittleThing tell us about their roles, the skills they need and how the expect positions to evolve over the coming years.

Andrew Shakespeare is business intelligence manager at womenswear brand Finery London

Andrew Shakespeare is business intelligence manager at Finery

Andrew Shakespeare: My recommendations can lead to a big improvement in the bottom line

Andrew Shakespeare: my recommendations can lead to a big improvement in the bottom line

Drapers: Tell me a bit about your role and how you got here.

AS: It is my job to ensure that decision-makers have the right information at the right time to enable them to make the best possible choices. Before my career in business intelligence (BI), I studied chemistry, specialising in analytical chemistry.

While I loved the analytical part, chemistry just wasn’t for me, so I went into retail analytics – first at Ocado and then Tesco. This gave me a good grounding in the skills needed to succeed in BI, but in large companies I felt as though my impact on business performance was limited. Then I joined Finery just as it was starting up. Finery is an exciting new women’s fashion brand with big ambitions, and in such a young company there is a lot more opportunity for me to directly contribute to business growth.

D: What are the main skills you need?

AS: The first thing anyone involved in BI needs is logical mind and a strong data-driven philosophy. You should never make recommendations to people based on guesswork – you should always be able to back up your view with robust analysis.

Second, you need a good understanding of how your business works, and you need to be comfortable analysing data. When you have these two together, you are in a great position to be able to provide the type of insights that will add a lot of value.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, you need to have strong interpersonal and presentation skills. It’s fine to do a great piece of analysis, but you need to get the right people in your business engaged with your analysis so that it can have the impact it deserves.

Finally – attention to detail! You have to make sure that you never make mistakes with the numbers you are presenting. Once someone notices any inconsistencies with the analysis you are showing them, you risk the BI function losing the trust of the rest of the business – meaning future work you do will have a limited impact.

In terms of technical skills, you need to be very strong at SQL and Excel. Visual Basic for Applications is a very useful skill to have but not necessary, as well as knowledge of scripting languages (Python, for example).

D: What are the best bits? And the worst?

AS: The best part of being a BI manager is when recommendations you make lead to huge improvements in the business bottom line. Sometimes the simplest changes can have a big impact, and working in BI you are in a prime position to identify these opportunities.

Another extremely satisfying part of my role is when I can help others improve at their jobs. There might be a particular task someone is having trouble with, and because of a piece of work you do they are able to excel at the task they once struggled with.

The worst part is managing the flow of data into our database. While it is necessary to have the highest-quality data you can analyse, for me this feels too far removed from actually adding value to the business. There are loads of people out there who love this part of BI, but the reason I turn up to work is to improve Finery – and spending time developing new data pipelines or fixing old ones, whilst this can add value in the future, doesn’t add value in the present so it often feels like a thankless task.

D: How do you expect your role to evolve over the next few years?

AS: Over the past year, I’ve been getting involved in digital marketing, working on automating decisions made across our marketing channels. This is a natural progression from BI, as rather than simply recommending action to take, we now have automatic execution of these actions. Over the next few years, I’d like to take this principle of automated decision-making to other departments in Finery. It means people spend less time on the “execution” part of their role, freeing them up to think more strategically about how we can improve Finery.

D: What new skills do you expect to develop over the coming years?

AS: As Finery continues to grow, so will my team, meaning improving my people-management skills is a priority for me. A larger team also means my role will become more hands-off. I will be working on my coaching skills so I can pass on my knowledge and experience to develop other team members.

I’m also always looking to learn new technical skills. Technology is evolving rapidly and is always making things possible that were previously impossible. This means you have to stay current and always be open to learning new skills, as there might be something released today that you could use to take your business to the next level.

 

Natalie O’Leary is social media assistant at PrettyLittleThing (PLT)

Natalie O’Leary is social media assistant at Pretty Little Thing (PLT)

Natalie O’Leary: There’s never a dull moment in social media

Natalie O’Leary: there’s never a dull moment in social media

Drapers: Tell us a bit about your role and how you got here.

NOL: There is no such thing a typical day in my role. When I’m not scheduling posts for Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, you could find me researching and creating unique content on what our customers are currently feeling or what is trending. Research consists of keeping up to date with all the latest celeb news and gossip as well scrolling through Twitter and Instagram so – fun!

Day to day, you could also find me running around capturing content for Snapchat and shooting live streams for Facebook Live and Periscope (Twitter). This is one of my favourite aspects of the job, as I’m a huge Snapchat addict. Some content is purely reactive and in the moment, while other bits are planned and executed with a purpose to promote a certain product or offer. This keeps our content varied and exclusive.

I came from a marketing background. I first gained experience working for a retail security firm as marketing assistant, something I really enjoyed, but I knew my passion lay with fashion and social media. After 10 months of working in retail security I saw the job opening for a social media assistant at PLT and had to have it.

D: What are the main skills you need?

NOL: Organisation – a lot of planning goes in to social media. Strategies are formed for best results and often posts can be scheduled days in advance. However, you have to be able to quickly change your plans and scheduling to keep in line with what is trending/popular at that moment.

A passion for it – this type of work requires you to be extremely reactive and able to jump from one task to another in a second’s notice, so loving it really helps you to stay on the ball.

An in-depth knowledge and understanding of the company you’re working for and its target audience. Tone of voice is a huge part of social media, as is being socially aware/emerged in popular culture.

D: What are the best bits? And the worst?

NOL: Social changes daily and there’s always something new and exciting happening either on social or in the building. There’s never a dull moment.

The worst bit is probably mentally spending my wages on site before I’ve been paid!

D: How do you expect your role to evolve over the next few years?

NOL: I don’t really ever see social media slowing down. The fast-paced nature means that it is constantly evolving, and with new apps and ways to utilise social popping up all the time, I only see it getting bigger.

D: What new skills do you expect to develop over the coming years?

NOL: I expect to learn a lot over the coming years. There will be new apps, developments, and ways to utilise social, so there is always something new to learn.

 

 

Nathan Ansell is director of customer insight at Marks & Spencer

Nathan Ansell is director of customer insight at Marks & Spencer

Nathan Ansell: Personalisation is gaining ground and new tools emerging all the time

Nathan Ansell: personalisation is gaining ground and new tools emerging all the time

Drapers: Tell us a bit about your role and how you got here.

Nathan Ansell: I’ve worked in marketing for 16 years. I studied psychology at university and started my career working in fast-moving consumer goods companies before moving to M&S. I’ve always been interested in consumer behaviour and how brands can engage with audiences based on their shopping habits and preferences. As marketing has become increasingly data led, I’ve moved into a role that harnesses the power of insight to provide the most relevant experience for customers. I head up a team with a range of expertise from data scientists to CRM with a shared goal of increasing the level of personalisation we offer our customers.

D: What are the main skills you need?

NA: You need an ability to interpret data and turn it into actionable insight for customers.

D: What are the best bits? And the worst?

NA: The part I enjoy the most is getting positive customer feedback – it really incentivises us all to raise the bar higher.

It can be disappointing when an approach doesn’t deliver the results you had hoped for, but the Customer Insight Unit works in an agile manner so we can be flexible and deliver for our customers. There is plenty to learn from failing fast, and iterating your proposition is a key component of customer marketing today.

D: How do you expect your role to evolve over the next few years?

NA: Personalisation is gaining more and more ground. New tools are constantly emerging and I think new marketing techniques come in to play as a consequence, but the fundamental principles remain the same. Listening to customers has always been a priority at M&S and it will continue to be.

D: What new skills do you expect to develop over the coming years?

NA: I try to keep abreast of emerging trends and tools so we can deliver for our customers.

 

Chris Blackmore is senior iOs Developer at Asos

Chris Blackmore is senior iOs Developer at Asos

Chris Blackmore: My role keeps me on my toes and every day is different

Chris Blackmore: my role keeps me on my toes and every day is different

Drapers: Tell us a bit about your role and how you got here.

CB: My primary role is to focus on the development of the Asos [iPhone operating system] iOS application that’s currently on the App Store – whether it involves crucial bug fixes, brand new features for our customers or preparing for the next best thing we can offer. I arrived at Asos from a mobile development agency in London, with a total of four years’ experience under my belt at the time.

D: What are the main skills you need?

CB: The fundamental skillset of an iOS developer is a thorough understanding of Swift, the latest, primary programming language for iOS developers. That’s not the only skill required though: a comprehensive understanding of iOS Human Interface guidelines, communication, team collaboration and an extremely high passion for iOS are all absolute musts.

D: What are the best bits? And the worst?

CB: The best bit about my role is that every day is different. There are always new features to create, issues to fix and problems to solve; it keeps me on my toes and it’s what makes my job as enjoyable as it is. It’s incredibly satisfying to be involved with improving the Asos mobile experience in any way possible.

It’s hard to pluck out the worst part of my role – but it’s probably hearing less than perfect comments about the iOS application. The mobile team and I take any comments or feedback to heart, and we all feel responsible for the mobile user experience we collectively provide. Fortunately, these comments are few and far between!

D: How do you expect your role to evolve over the next few years?

CB: The mobile department at Asos is expanding at an incredible pace, and while I can’t predict how development (specifically) will evolve, I expect my role to require more attention on the management of fellow developers in our team, and how we can make the most of the skillsets we jointly provide to be as efficient and productive as possible.

D: What new skills do you expect to develop over the coming years?

CB: Luckily, Apple’s annual iOS refresh in the autumn always provides me with new skills and technologies to familiarise myself with. Asos is at the forefront of mobile technology and I have faith that we’ll be adopting as many services as possible when they are made available. And of course, there’s always room for improvement in any industry or role, and I’m always on the hunt for new techniques and to improve my skills.

 

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