Omni-channel retail and the demand for online talent

(This article originally appeared in the Ask the Expert series on, September 2013)
At Michael Page Retail we’ve expanded our capabilities to meet the significant rise in demand for professionals with online skills and experience. In fact, a third of our business last year came from ecommerce focused roles.
The rapid development of omni-channel retail has been the most dramatic movement retail has ever seen. Over the last few years, we have seen a massive shift from high street shopping to online and the conversion to mobile is happening even faster.


The biggest issue for many consumers seems to be the lack of consistency between retailers’ online and in-store offerings – the aim should be to create a ‘seamless customer experience’.
Many high street retailers are coming up with ways of integrating their online and offline offering with methods such as free Wi-Fi in store, so customers can browse on their mobile. In some stores, sales assistants carry around tablets to better access and manage stock for customers and even take customers online to see larger ranges. The idea being that shoppers start and finish their buying experience through different mediums, but will stay with the same retailer throughout the whole process.
Other methods include click and collect, where the shopper makes the purchase online and only goes to the store to collect. Online retailer, Amazon, and supermarket chain, Waitrose, are introducing ‘lockers’ – pick up points where a customer’s purchases can be stored until the customer is ready to collect. The customer orders and pays online for their goods and receives an email or text with a unique code to use at the locker site. They then enter the code at the locker computer station, open the locker and their purchases are inside. Amazon’s returns system works the same way; the customer puts the package back in the locker at a time that is convenient for them and it is then collected and taken back to the warehouse. This seamless customer journey allows the best ecommerce retailers to capture customers that others cannot reach. The future customer base of 25-40 year olds need to feel like they are getting a more superior and efficient service that supersedes popping out on their lunch break to return an item bought online.

Online merchandising

Merchandisers working for omni-channel retailers have access to data instantly that they can use to analyse trends and demands. They should be using this demographic data to drive better stock availability through all channels as well as to present their online offering, particularly for mobile shopping.
Mobile shopping usually takes place when someone has a short interval of time to fill, so consumers are unlikely to spend a lot of time browsing hundreds of products on a mobile device, as opposed to a desktop computer. This is where merchandisers must be on top of consumer demand – products that are selling fast should be easily accessible and the timeframe to buy is essential: speed of site, usability and data retrieval are key. Online merchandisers are focusing on availability, average basket sizes and add on sales, all of which needs to be achieved within a shorter time scale than for a customer sat on a desktop or at home.
Big ticket items present a different type of challenge to merchandisers and retailers wanting to expand to mobile. By its nature, mobile channels present consumers with relatively little information, i.e. description and picture, rather than pages of text. So merchandisers must use their mobile offering as a way of enticing their customers to visit a store, rather than complete a transaction on their mobile device. This is where bricks and mortar stores still play an important part in the seamless customer journey – the shopper will start and finish their journey through different channels, but should be presented with a consistent service throughout the sale.

Recruiting online specialists

Omni-channel candidates are headhunted at least once a week and they are often open to having a conversation with an interested party. Still, many retailers do not see the value of good onmi-channel employees so these candidates can have their head turned easily. The top three key motivating/demotivating factors in omni-channel talent are:
  • Reward and recognition. Many retailers will target and reward according to company sales/profits rather than per channel, thus not recognising and rewarding success against individual channel growth. KPIs and related bonuses are a key factor in candidates leaving and joining businesses. In addition, salary should be reflective of the results rather than length of experience. Our recent salary survey showed that as online positions increase, so does the requirement for a strong salary and benefits package. Online buyers’ and merchandisers’ expectations are raised because they recognise that across the fashion industry, there is a skill shortage to fulfil vacancies.
  • Team structure and direction. Many retailers are now recognising the requirement to raise ecommerce/omni-channel directors to sit on the operating board. This leader is key to people leaving/joining new businesses. However, some retailers have yet to make this appointment. At a middle management level, this demonstrates the support, direction of the channel and the comfort that career growth and training will be a priority.
  • Career development. Due to the recent, but rapid, growth in this channel, the majority of omni-channel buyers/merchandisers have less than five years’ experience and have moved from a bricks and mortar role. They have been selected as they are naturally quick learners, ambitious and are star players within their organisation. As a consequence, they are seeking a clear, speedy career development.
As well as attracting top talent, succession planning and internal talent management to multi skill omni-channel teams within existing functions is essential. With the change in the way consumers buy, retailers need online functions that support the needs of their customers. Get in touch with one of the Michael Page Reail team to find out more.