Retail is an industry that has undergone a multitude of changes over the last few decades, from family owned and run local stores to hypermarket chains and mega shopping malls. It can be said that most major technological and societal trends have impacted the sector in some shape or form and arguably none of them hold more weight than the internet. Publicly available since 1991, it wasn’t until the mid to late 90s that the internet took flight, and in doing so paved the way for a limitless amount of possibilities. One of which, depending on the type of retailer you are could be viewed as a threat or a golden opportunity – ecommerce.
Intelligent players know that they can leverage innovation to their benefit and deploy technology in a way that brings us closer to the customer with sharper appreciation of their rhythms and needs. Web and mobile platforms drawing on innovative tools like smart shopping lists can only make us better retailers because it demands that we listen to customers, carefully analyse what we’re told and design our offering accordingly. This sort of omnichannel approach gives retailers a holistic view of purchases and interactions across several touch-points and can prove to be extremely effective when executed appropriately.
Of course, building the right team will mean the difference between success and failure. Retailers are often unsure of what to look for in candidates. Employing a recruitment professionals or agencies that specialize in digital talent can be useful given their familiarity with the skillsets required for such roles. The key criteria for any candidate is the marriage of technical skills to a restless passion for the customer experience. We need to be able to empathise with consumers whether it be through customer data analytics, user centred design or focus groups to test the value and thinking behind new products.
Next are the product managers. Think of them as the gatekeepers of any digital product. Their main responsibilities will be to work closely with developers, engineers and even business stakeholders frequently when deciding what product or service features to develop. In today’s dynamic technology landscape, full stack architects are also becoming increasingly important. These are individuals that are adept across all several technology components including mobile user interfaces, micro services, back-end databases etc.
No team can be complete without strong leaders, known in the tech industry as “scrum masters”. These are people who inspire their colleagues toward a collective goal that promises to materially benefit the customer. It really is that simple but identifying the required skill-set is also the easy part. The hard work begins when you set out to attract and retain these individuals and success tends to hinge on the employer branding equity and articulation of the opportunity. After all, if tech savvy candidates are relentlessly sought by some of the world’s leading companies in their areas of expertise, you need to make a strong pitch for them to look outside the more familiar confines of the tech arena and join a retailer with its sights firmly set on the horizon.
Retailers can and should start with a passionate focus on communicating the potential for candidates to do some career-defining work in a space that is typically far less crowded with tech talent. Retail presents a huge opportunity for innovators to truly pioneer and they can do so in a mature industry that already benefits from a considerable and active audience. Here you have an opportunity to be a stand-out change agent in a sector hungry for the market differentiation well executed technical strategies can deliver, rather than being a mere contributor to a more mainstream and established technology brand. Yes, compensation is important, but research consistently shows that a compelling vision and value proposition are equally effective as motivating factors. One strategy may potentially involve creating mini-start-ups within each business segment, complete with their own roadmaps, career paths and cultures.
To help employees stay engaged at work we must enable the entrepreneurial mind-set that has a habit of motivating the greatest talent. All positive and meaningful change requires us to set both agenda and goals and if we fail to do so we invite stagnation. We must challenge talent to apply critical thinking and the art of the possible in search of truly sector changing customer experiences. It’s not enough to simply offer ‘exciting’ projects because given the highly competitive nature of the tech industry, candidates are looking for the chance to make a name for themselves. Retailers should ensure they maintain targeted training programs that don’t simply instil learning but provide a forum for the most talented and creative individuals to share and enact their ideas. If we’re dispensing knowledge on the latest trends like data analytics, AI or hackathons, we should enable dialogue focused on precisely how these trends can be deployed in the service of our business and ultimately of customers. In environments such as these leaders emerge, and the future belongs to them.
As a business that’s transforming its approach to stakeholders both internal and external, these are the refreshing themes we are focused on every day. Majid Al Futtaim has set its sights on attracting the very best digital talent available because we know our continued growth and customer satisfaction demands it. It will be a hugely exciting journey, driven by people, for people.
I look forward to further discussing this topic, and my own thoughts on leadership with purpose, at The Consumer Goods Forum’s FLP Congress in Berlin next week, and throughout the course of the year as part of the newly-launched FLP Network.
Chief Executive Officer
Majid Al Futtaim Retail