The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound and lasting effect on the retail sector. As many stores were forced to close during several lengthy lockdowns, those with no previous online presence sought to quickly become e-commerce-savvy.
As retailers were shifting to online platforms, so too were their customers. Many of whom had never shopped online before, now found themselves shielding. Unable to safely venture out of their own front doors, they too began navigating an entirely different landscape to that in which they were used to.
At the height of pandemic restrictions in April 2020, retail sales fell by a quarter compared with pre-COVID levels. Data from IMRG shows that online sales grew by 36% in 2020, the highest growth in 13 years. In contrast, overall retail sales fell by 0.13%, the lowest annual growth figure for 25 years. While physical shops have now reopened, a far higher proportion of purchasing remains online than before the crisis.
The increased amount of people shopping online has put significant strain on retailers and e-commerce platforms. Throughout 2020 there were multiple occasions when supermarket apps simply could not cope with the demands of the population vying for scant deliveries slots.
This has led to a seismic shift in roles within the industry as a whole. Whether employers be fully immersed online retailers, or hybrid versions with online and shop premises, the range of highly technical systems that employees need to be proficient in using is rapidly increasing. As such, tech talent has never been so in demand. Conversely, potential employees now have the pick of who to work for and come with a long list of what they want from future employers.
According to recent research, retention and turnover were named as the top challenge by HR professionals in the online retail sector. To retain key talent HR functions must be agile and innovative when designing retention, reward, and recognition programmes. Learning and development is a high priority as is the culture of the company. If employers are to attract and retain top talent, they must truly be listening to what their people are saying.
Employers who want to retain their talent need to keep their finger on the pulse regarding what staff are thinking and feeling. Those who do so will be best placed to address any issues proactively and swiftly before they result in their best people leaving. But in the face of all the challenges besetting the sector, how can we make this cultural shift business as usual?
In the following industry overview, we discuss each of the 9 factors that science has shown to determine success through people and explore these in the context of the unique challenges currently being faced by employers in the online retail sector.