Are You Prepared for a Future in Retail?

In my last article, I spoke about the ‘perfect storm’ in retail. While there has not been a great deal in the national papers about it recently, other than to report on the profits of the big high street brands, there is plenty of information circulating in the retail publications.

As you might recall, there are two main factors contributing to the momentum of this ‘storm’; automation and the rise in minimum wage.

It does seem that since my last article, the sector has already started to feel the pinch. According to the British Retail Consortium, the hours worked in retail fell 4.2% in the third quarter year on year. It also seems that full-time work is decreasing at a faster rate than part-time.

While full-scale automation is a long way off, retailers paying the increased wages are struggling to compete with e-Commerce retailers such as Amazon, ASOS, Ocado and Just Eat. Citigroup suggests in their report on Technology and Employment, that the decline in traditional retail roles has coincided with a 32% increase in e-commerce roles. Additionally, there was a 27% increase in specialized roles such as e-Commerce analysts.

Faced with increasing pressure, it seems that traditional retailers will eventually have to adapt and start to adopt new technologies and ways of operating. This will mean that the skills that retailers look for begin to change. It will also mean that the traditional entry into retail will change. Case studies carried out in the US – where e-commerce is beginning to get a hold – shows that while only 12% of entry-level retail roles require a degree, in e-Commerce, 78% of vacancies require a degree.

The same report also predicts that, since the automation of checkouts is here, the cashier role will be further redefined with employers placing value on accounting and complaints handling skills. In short, there will be an increase in the required skill level and fewer jobs. While this is good for employers who seek a large candidate pool from which to choose, this is not so great for those who are looking for an entry level retail role. While it was the case that a relatively low-skilled candidate could enter retail, gain skills and experience and work their way up to a high paying role, it seems that automation will destroy this route to success.

So, what can you do to remain competitive?

You could consider an apprenticeship if your employer offers them. Apprenticeships are now a great opportunity for people of all ages to improve their skillsets.

Consider your IT skills. Do you have proficiency in:

  • Digital technology
  • Accounting software
  • Excel/spreadsheets
  • Database user interface
  • Query software

e-Commerce roles that will most likely be in demand include:

  • Supply-chain software engineers
  • Robot Technicians