At the Kroger Co., headhunters are going bananas for technology majors.
So are talent seekers at Nordstrom, Best Buy, Home Depot and others. Traditional retail positions, such as cashiers, are increasingly being shelved as major brands reduce store numbers and invest in digital integration. And with that shift comes an escalating demand for the technology talent to lead their efforts.
Most retailers have little choice if they want to remain competitive. In the next 10 years, up to 60% of retail jobs will involve new roles or duties, Craig Rowley, senior client partner at human resources firm Korn Ferry Hay Group, recently told the Chicago Tribune.
In short, if retail is going to sell in a virtual handbasket, then this year’s most promising jobs will involve insights, not inventories. For consumers, it means what was once considered a low-paying job is evolving into a long-term career with the potential to determine the fate of many major brands.
Retail Institutes of Technology: Kroger, Nordstrom, Home Depot
The evidence of retail’s tech embrace was tellingly on display at the 2018 National Retail Federation’s annual trade show in New York. The New York Timesdescribed the January event as “a conference about shopping that looked more like an expo for tech.”
The challenge, for traditional retailers, is adapting the technology fast enough to win the best talent — andfinding the right talent to adapt it. Another hurdle is capturing the interest of unknowing college graduates enamored with digital, more youthful-seeming brands.
A sampling of retailers investing in technology positions hints that many may be trying to catch up after not recognizing the need soon enough:
- Kroger in January said it is actively recruiting experienced digital and technology talent both in its corporate offices and in stores. The measure is part of its Restock Kroger program, a $500 million investment in talent over the next three years.
- Nordstrom posted openings for nearly 30 technology positions in January alone. Opportunities included data engineers, software engineers and omnichannel inventory managers.
- The Home Depot has dedicated a webpage to attracting technology candidates, highlighting career opportunities in seven areas including mobile, data analytics, online merchandising and user experience. A recent search of its “interconnected operations” jobs listed dozens of openings. The page also features Home Depot’s latest technologies from its Innovation Hub.
Tomorrow’s Jobs, Today
The positions these brands and others advertise come under various titles, but can be broken down into three broad categories:
Customer experience leaders: These experts are tasked with coalescing the online and in-store shopper experience. Doing so typically requires aligning company-wide strategies, processes and technologies to the fast-changing needs of consumers, as described by Monster.com. Omnichannel marketing has generated the need for this particular expertise, as merchants strive to produce an indulgent, brand-specific experience that is consistent regardless of channel. Positions can scale from middle management to the C-suite.
Data analysts: Retailers are brilliant at capturing data, but they still struggle with putting it to its best use. Companies in 2018 will need roughly 180,000 people with deep analytical skills, according to predictions by International Data Corporation. An additional 900,000 or so jobs will require data management and interpretation skills. Expect a good number of those positions to be in retail, in the form of customer analytics — dissecting shopper data to identify predictive behaviors, pain points and paths to purchase.
Software developers: All those mobile-ordered shoes and razors are supporting a growing legion of IT professionals, digital marketers and software developers. A study by Glassdoor found the retail industry recorded the biggest increase in software job postings of all industries, up 7.5 percentage points from 2012 to 2017, to 13.9% from 6.4%.
What It Means for Retail and Consumers
For workers and retail employers, the shift means the future of retail is no longer largely in the hands of merchandisers and marketers. In many cases, retail executives are looking to this new talent to dig the path to their future. Today’s software expert could change the direction of retail.
For those who lack a tech background, technology has enabled other opportunities in the aisles. Workers at Walmart will increasingly dedicate their hours to fetching and assembling online orders for curbside pickup. At the recently opened Amazon Go store, which is cashier-free, employees help shoppers troubleshoot technical problems. At Best Buy, workers are assigned to visit shoppers at their homes to offer smart-home consultations. And at any number of stores, staff members may soon be programing in-aisle robots.
However, regardless of the degree to which technology changes careers, the most valued quality among workers will not change. That is the ability to empathize with consumers and troubleshoot their needs. Software can help build machine intelligence, but when it comes to delivering memorable interactions, shoppers still tend to prefer humanity.