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Is U.K. E-Commerce Talent Shortage Because Chains Are Looking For The Wrong People?

Written by Retail Week
June 20th, 2012

Editor’s Note: Just like the rest of the world, U.K. retailers suffer from a lack of technical talent, especially in E-Commerce. But Martin Newman, a columnist for Retail Week, the new U.K. content partner for StorefrontBacktalk, argues that the problem there is not because of a talent shortage as much as retailers seeking the wrong kind of talent.

“Too many (U.K.) retailers still don’t fully understand what skills are required to run the online channel,” Newman wrote. “There tends to be too much emphasis on technical skills and not enough on core retailing requirements such as good old-fashioned day-to-day trading.” Some good thoughts there for retailers on any continent.

Mind the gap—the skills gap that is. Everyone knows that supply can’t meet demand when it comes to E-Commerce roles. Retailers rationalizing their store portfolios and focusing online will only exacerbate the issue.

And given the growth opportunities presented by the Web and cross-channel, a combination of lost sales demand and market share will be the effect of the shortage of skills and resources.

But a shortfall of resource is not the only challenge. There is also a lack of ‘relevant resource’; by this I mean people with the appropriate skills to do the job.

The lack of appropriately skilled resources is partly driven by the fact that too many retailers still don’t fully understand what skills are required to run the online channel. There tends to be too much emphasis on technical skills and not enough on core retailing requirements such as good old-fashioned day-to-day trading.

This can be evidenced by the fact that most retailers have very similar structures for their store business because it’s a well-understood model, yet there are no two retailers that have the same structure for their online channel.

One of the main drivers of the shortfall in resource is short-termism, where businesses appear to accept the fact that employees in E-Commerce roles will churn faster than in other parts of the business.

Few companies put enough emphasis on staff retention in the online channel. Succession planning, long-term bonuses and opportunities to develop new skills have to be the starting point if you’re serious about giving employees a reason to walk away from the lure of big salary increases to jump ship, which is now commonplace.

Someone told me recently that there are twice the number of people studying journalism today as there were 10 years ago, with half the number of jobs available.

We need to ensure more young people are choosing to come into our industry. Surely the starting point has to be creating more choice of courses for students to consider E-Commerce and multichannel retailing as a career.

—Retail Week is the U.K.’s leading provider of retail industry news and insight, top retail jobs, key retail market reports and data, from across the entire retail sector. Visit www.retail-week.com for the latest breaking news, views and analysis on the U.K. retail sector.


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