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The human side of digitalization of retail

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As retail becomes increasingly digital, retailers across categories are feeling the need to redefine job roles, hire for new skills and equip their employees with a whole new set of abilities

Mumbai: When Harsh Shah cofounder of omnichannel commerce platform Fynd wanted to hire a driver for his family, the first question he asked candidates was “can you use Google Maps?” and not which kind of cars the potential candidate has driven or for how long has he been in a driving job?

“This shows how skill sets required for doing even a traditional job have changed in the new world,” Shah said speaking at a recent Mumbai conference about the changing manpower requirements that retail organisations have to deal with in the face of retail transformation.

As retail becomes increasingly digital, retailers across categories are feeling the need to equip their employees with a whole new set of skills, industry leaders said. While core skill sets such as a service-centric attitude remain in demand, retailers are now looking for employees that are adaptive, flexible and tech-savvy as retailers increasingly adopt omni-channel retailing.

“As we moved from simply selling on different channels to omni-channel, our hiring needs changed,” said Anshu Bhogra, senior vice president, Australia-based Forever New Clothing. “We put the right expectations in front of the new recruits right at the beginning. We started hiring people for adaptability, flexibility and for their ability to interact with technology.”

In addition to attrition, retail organisations are now having to redefine job roles and their expectations of their employees. Tech-savviness is a key attribute that all retail companies are looking for in their candidates across job functions, right from the front-end sales associate in a store to the last-mile delivery person and every other process/function in between.

“Today, someone at a warehouse dealing with inventory needs to be able to interact with the warehouse management system put in place. Only then will the technology yield the desired result,” said Nissan Joseph, CEO, Metro Brands Ltd.

According to Nirmit Parikh, chief executive officer and founder of hiring app Apna which hosts 121 job interviews every minute on its platform, the Indian retail industry employs 25 million people across the board today. “By 2030, we’ll need 25 million more and the skills required will keep evolving,” he said.  “Today, in addition to sales etc, we’ve started adding new skill tags such as empathy and technology. Now for every single job role, we keep adding the skill tags,” Parikh added.

While retail organisations are ensuring the right skill sets when onboarding new talent, they are also having to face the challenge of reskilling or upskilling existing employees as per the evolving job requirements.

Sanjay Vakharia of Spykar shared that skilling the existing staff with the use of technology was a priority for his company.

However, getting existing employees to perform tasks using technology is easier said than done, as in the case of Bestseller India. The company is facing a challenge to get its buying team to make buying decisions based on data and insights rather than on ‘gut’.

“Getting the buying team to use tools to select the right products instead of relying solely on their gut. That’s been the biggest challenge. As an organization grows and personalization becomes more critical, that’s where data comes in,” he said.

It is not just about upskilling or reskilling but also about a mindset change. “It is not just about changing structures—tech teams of companies are getting bigger…there is the addition of a digital team or e-commerce team to the existing team structure—It is about the attitudinal change,” said Bhogra.

Adding depth to Bhogra’s perspective Joseph of Metro Brands said, “It is not about structural changes but about structural attitudinal changes. It matters how an employer looks at the employees and their lifecyles. Today is all about quality of life. So, we are starting to do engagement surveys. It’s all about turning the lens around.”

The leaders were speaking at the Retail Leadership Summit 2023 organised by the Retailers Association of India in Mumbai.

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