By Matthew Parker, CEO of Lumesse,

Matthew Parker discusses the key talent issues facing the retail sector and how technology can help overcome these challenges.

Over the last decade technology has revolutionised the retail industry. The internet and the growth of online shopping has not only helped many retailers cut costs and improve efficiencies, it has expanded the customer experience and customer choice. But how else can technology aid the growth of the sector?

As consumer spending slows across the UK and retail competition increases, it’s obvious that staff talent is one major differentiator that is vital to success. But great people are hard to find and hard to keep — so there is an opportunity to use technology behind the scenes, developing a retailer’s workforce and employer brand. For a people and service-driven industry, recruiting, retaining and managing the best possible talent will go a long way to ensuring the success of an organisation, both from a financial and brand perception perspective.

But finding the right talent within the retail sector has become an increasingly difficult task. Considering the industry’s high staff turnover, varying seasonal demands, a volatile economic climate and vastly different positions to fill, it’s little wonder that attracting and retaining the right talent remains an ongoing battle. Effective development and deployment of retail talent means continually managing the pipeline of people and work, by matching and moving the best internal and external talent to the positions for which they are most suitable. However, according to a survey of retailers by Deloitte, 41 per cent said that they do not have the HR technology to support talent management within their organisations.

Retail is a high-turnover industry and when employees are less committed to their organisations they are often less satisfied with their jobs and therefore less likely to stay with their current employer. Not only can HR technology improve retention rates, by developing and promoting talent from within, it can support recruitment processes, helping the retailers meet their diverse talent needs — from recruiting customer-facing employees to senior roles in corporate headquarters.

Whether a retailer is large or small, the talent acquisition challenge remains the same — accessing the best local talent in the shortest amount of time and at the lowest cost. One of the UK’s leading retailers, WHSmith, implemented an online recruitment solution to help address this. Relying on its manual, paper-based processes meant that recruiting the 4-6,000 new staff needed each year was extremely time intensive. The solution not only eased the administrative burden, but created a better applicant experience, because they could receive prompt, high-quality responses at every step of the process. As is the case with the majority of retailers, WHSmith understood that most of the company’s 17,000 staff were customers before they became employees, so offering a candidate-friendly recruitment process was important for maintaining its brand perception.

The company had to overcome the common perception that the retail industry provides a stop-gap career. The dispersed nature of large retail organisations can make it difficult for retailers to align its employees with the business objectives and maximise an individual’s productivity by highlighting career progression opportunities. Performance management has the potential to close the loop on HR practices, and, when done right, can help employees see retail as a viable career choice. It not only helps retailers achieve the most from their employees once onboard, but helps retain them within the organisation, by keeping them engaged.

As the industry evolves, retailers should turn to technology to improve their people management process and to find and nurture their talent. Tomorrow’s leading retailers are already taking to steps to create and refine their talent processes, streamline internal operations and focus on their customers. According to research from talent experts Bersin & Associates, organisations that develop mature talent processes promote twice as many employees, are 92 per cent better at creating a pipeline of successors and are 68 per cent more able to plan for future talent needs. Retailers around the world understand that just as technology has been used to optimise inventories and supply chains, they need to appreciate its value in refining retail talent processes throughout the employee lifecycle. Great people are a hugely valuable asset, and using the right talent management solutions can reduce costs, increase efficiencies and align individual effort with organisational goals to help retail managers lead their companies to success in the future.

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