The four major trends in retail transformation in 2017

Retailers are now faced with a number of new challenges as consumers and the market have shifted.

Things are changing everywhere around us, you don’t need me to tell you that. Soon, we’ll no longer be part of the EU, the former host of the US Apprentice already holds the most powerful position in the world and perhaps most shockingly of all, Leicester City won the Premier League last year. The retail arena is no different. Once customers were happy to look at and buy their products in physical stores. However, today the modern consumer not only wants to be able to go into a store, but they also want to be able to view products on their tablet, phone or laptop and get them delivered to their home at a time of their choosing. Oh, and they want to be able to return them if they’re not happy with the product in some way. Unsurprisingly, this creates considerable challenges for retailers and this shifting market is contributing to the huge amount of change and transformation that’s already underway in the sector. But what are the key trends in retail transformation and what does it mean for hiring? 

Cost control and continuous learning  

Let’s be honest, all reports suggest that 2017 will be an economically challenging year and while it’s encouraging that firms want to invest in technology and improving their customers’ experiences, it’s also highly likely that there will be a degree of cost control in order to temper spiralling project prices. It’s therefore probable that there will be more of a focus on improving the structure and efficiency of major change projects, with more emphasis on learning from past mistakes. And as a result, there’s going to be significant demand for professionals in roles like programme directors and managers as well as change leads – all of whom have experience of managing and shaping projects and, crucially, keeping costs under control. 

Big Data  

This won’t just be a major trend in retail, it’s likely to be across the board. The multichannel approach combined with the ever increasing use of tech and the fact we live in an information led society has meant the average consumer facing organisation has masses of data at its disposal. And the majority of firms are not exploiting this to its full potential. Competition in the retail market is intense with both small and large organisations making their mark and ultimately it will be the firms that can most effectively cleanse, exploit and utilise their data that are likely to succeed. Consequently, professionals with experience of web and data analysis as well as those familiar with overseeing major data projects are going to be extremely highly sought after. 

Article 50  

This is the big one. It’s obviously challenging to predict exactly what Brexit will bring, as rather worryingly we still don’t have a firm idea of what deal we’ll actually be getting and, consequently, few firms have committed to a concrete strategy. However, there will be a major impact on the sector if freedom of movement laws are affected, as it seems they may be, and it’s likely that there will be a real demand for customer service workers, particularly as we approach the end of the year and the run up to Christmas. If we’re on the receiving end of a ‘hard’ Brexit there’s also a chance that London’s lure and pull as a major global tech hub could be impacted, although the resilience of the sector in the capital should ensure this remains strong for the foreseeable future. 

Speed to market and the customer journey  

As already mentioned, the modern consumer wants a lot more – and wants it delivered a lot quicker – than any generation before and as a result firms are heavily focusing on improving their speed to market and creating a truly transparent customer journey. Retailers, while still looking to carefully manage costs, will invest heavily in technology which will create a need for bolstered IT infrastructure to meet the anticipated demand. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this will lead to an even greater need for technical expertise across the board. 

As a result of the enormous amount of change and transformation taking place across the sector, retail is going to be an interesting market to watch in 2017. It’s not just the race to exploit data and improve the customer journey, but also the race to find the people that can actually make this happen. The heavily populated retail market is already in a state of flux as firms seek new ways to sate the needs of their customers and as we’ve seen, the vast majority of this change is being driven by technology. 

Organisations are now seeing tech as an investment, rather than a cost, however this approach can also potentially create challenges and a significant amount of risk, both in the external markets and, crucially, internally. Any firm that looks to revolutionise its tech offering, or change its operating model without fully communicating this with their staff and guiding them through the period of change is likely to fail, and fail miserably. The challenge is increased further by the fact that skills shortages, as we all know, are rife and there are only a relatively limited number of people with the fine balance of communication, leadership and softer skills to allow transformational projects to be successful. But without these people, an investment in technology can become a major risk and could upset the otherwise happy atmosphere and balance amongst employees. 

Organisations are no longer just battling for success in the retail arena, they’re also part of the war for talent and the winner of that clash will likely dictate the winner of the former. 

Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Richardson is a retail contract consultant at Venquis, the specialist change and business transformation consultancy. He graduated with a degree in German and Geography from Aberystwyth University before spending a year and a half living in Germany where he worked for Puma and GfK. Ed returned to London in September 2015 to pursue a career in recruitment with Venquis.