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How to retain talent & train omnichannel skills in the retail industry

How to retain talent & train omnichannel skills in the retail industry

Written by:
Gregor Towers
Date created
August 23, 2023
Last updated:
Jun 2, 2023
5 min read
Table of content
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Key takeaways

Changing consumer behavior is demanding new talent skills and retention strategies in the retail industry. Retailers are searching for solutions to capture consumers without losing their employees.

Consumers are more selective than ever. With an abundance of products and economic change, they select when, where and what they purchase with precision.

To spell it out, consumer choices are not random. There are patterns and triggers behind every purchase spread over a multitude of channels.

Retailers need to address this complex behavior by crafting customer-centric strategies built on omnichannel brands, data and people skills.

However, as global retailers report the highest employee turnover out of any industry, talent development and skill training have to stay relevant to meet customer expectations and demands.

How can retailers react to current industry trends with upskilling to retain both their talent and the consumer?

Download your retail upskilling checklist

The state of retail’s talent retention

The data behind retailers’ talent struggle provides detailed insights into where and which talent groups retailers are losing in the ecosystem.

In the US, the retail industry hosts the largest share of the national workforce at 20% (31 million people). In April 2022, coupled with the largest talent share, the quit rate was 70% higher than national industry average.

Monthly quit rate average between May 2021 – April 2022 – US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Attrition is hitting in-store talent the hardest. Nearly half of retail frontliners want to quit and a further half of these departing talent want to leave the industry for good.

And retailers are seeing two frontline groups heading for the exit. Managers are 1.75 times likelier than non-managers to leave their jobs (63% versus 36%) and when we examine age groups, those most at risk of leaving are older than 35.

US frontline retail employees considering leaving their jobs by age and gender

But retailers aren’t only battling to keep their frontline talent. Their teams managing the data and online space are dealing with skill changes. What’s important, however, is the link between challenges employees face within retail organizations – they are all scrambling to adapt to new consumer habits and expectations.

Click below for an infographic of key insights into the retail industry

Key insight overview

The omnichannel brand demands new skills for working in retail

The new consumer’s complex shopping patterns demand a change in retailers’ brand strategy.

When it comes to brand building, it’s key to adapt to a changing world. Some brands are better in keeping pace or even setting new trends. Some companies and business models don’t keep up with the speed of change and become obsolete (Kodak-moment) or quickly become less popular, even though the brand might still be valuable. Adaptation nowadays is crucial.

Diederik Heinink, Partner of Marketing Communications Agency Qiss

With two separate channels available, online and in-store, retailers have to optimize each touchpoint to activate sales. While this increases profit, the challenge is the new skill sets required.

Consumers who engage with an omnichannel brand shop 1.7 times more than single-channel shoppers. This behavior has given rise to a new phenomena BOPIS – buy online, pick up in-store. 56% of consumers intend to continue with this shopping model post-pandemic. Yet in reverse customers who visit a retail website within 24 hours of a store visit are three times more likely to purchase. What can retailers take from this?

Optimizing and connecting channels and in-store experiences is crucial. Whether you’re selling gardening products or whether you are a bank offering services. You can have a great online presence, but if the physical customer experience isn’t great, your product or service won’t perform well.

However, when all experiences connect, you will win the hearts and minds of customers and you will build loyalty.

Diederik Heinink, Partner of Marketing Communications Agency Qiss

Understanding your customer’s engagement with each digital and physical touchpoint is critical. Are they ordering online to pick up in- store or do they look in-store then order online? Either way both channels require data management skills to ensure seamless consumer experience across platforms. This is where the first shift in people’s skills takes place.

Data means retailers need cross-functional talent with mixed skill sets

Retailers’ greatest asset to customize brand experience for the new consumer is data. With proper insights, retailers can align product investment to set up their business model for long-term value.

That, however, requires a data management team to analyze and translate consumer patterns into cross channel strategy. Take Amazon as an example of upskilling their teams to optimize data and product offering. The home page of Amazon product listings generates two-thirds of clicks. Their load time for optimal conversions doesn’t exceed 2.7 seconds – thereafter every 100-millisecond delay reduces conversion by up to 7%.

Data management isn’t isolated to the online space in retailers’ ecosystems. Retailers need cross functional teams who can bridge the gap between digital and in-store channels. These need to both communicate the data to frontline talent with storytelling and optimize in-store layouts to accommodate the new consumer.

To capture the new consumer and build an omnichannel brand, retailers need to be data driven. For that, investment in training people’s data analytic skills and learning agility is key.

Josanne Verdonk, Chief Human Resource Officer at G-Star

The in-store physical space is critical to retailers’ profit. Mckinsey reported that opening a new store can increase website traffic by 37% and in 2023 post the pandemic, consumers selected stores as a key shopping channel.

In the last 12 months how often have you bought products using the following shopping channels? Results: in-store 43%, mobile 34%, pc 23%, tablet 15%

Retailers may open up new revenue streams with this multichannel combination, but here lies the catalyst behind their talent retention struggle. The depth of personalization and need to sync shopping channels changes the outlook on data teams’ skills. They don’t just need greater technical skills to manage data, but cross-functional talent with mixed skill sets.

If we look today at prosperous retail brands and important drivers for consumer and employee experience, it is clear that sustainability and omnichannel are at the center. Retail executives need to reflect this in organizational strategy, your people skills and daily conversations.

Bas Leutscher, Transformation Director at L’Oréal

If retailers want to capitalize on the new consumer’s shopping patterns, they have to complement technical skill sets with soft skills to build teams with new capabilities which connect data to in-store designs and inform frontline talent of consumer behavior.  

Retail leadership & sales skills are challenged by the new consumer  

As retailers’ data and online specialists adapt to the new consumers’ behavior, in-store frontline staff are facing different challenges. With consumers flooding back to shops in 2023, their changing values, preferences and expectations are loading the pressure on frontline talent.  

Eurozone and UK consumer changes in shopping habits in the past three versus the next three months

Retailers’ consumer shopping preferences have changed in two ways: what and how they buy products. First they are looking for a variety of brand options to cut costs given the recent inflation and recession. But when it comes to product choices – sustainability is a key determinant.

Consumers are moving away from unsustainable products such as fur and single plastics and switching to more local produce. Retailers’ data teams need to align their in-store product range with consumers’  preferences while also providing these insights to frontline staff to activate more sales.

The second change is how customers make in-store purchases. In February 2023 customers ranked knowledgeable sales associates as the most important in-store attribute.  

Which of the following potential attributes of the physical in-store experience do you find most appealing?

Along with more product and sales consultation, they seek dynamic in-store shopping experiences through technological assets to complement their purchases, self-service checkouts, a mobile app to locate products, virtual reality product demonstrations, sales advisor appointment and’ “scan-and-go” devices to skip checkout queues.  

This is the crunch point for retailers. The level of new consumer’s satisfaction is at the core of financial and retention success. Higher satisfaction scores increase sales conversion by 10 to 15% and employee engagement by 20 to 30%. Retailers who cannot meet these expectations will not only see profits fall, but also their in-store talent retention as the pressure rises to satisfy the customer experience.

Therefore, retailers will need excellent sales talent combined with in-store managers who can support and engage their team in new environments. That means listening to their teams’ needs  and rewarding high-performing talent with career mobility to improve retention while also managing stakeholders in data and brand teams.

Retailers need to focus on talent’s leadership, data & sales skills

New consumer patterns are causing a ripple effect in retailers’ workforce skills. But this consumer isn’t a burden, its shopping behavior is creating greater revenue streams and more dynamic employment opportunities.

However, the industry needs to solve poor employee retention levels and address skills for working in retail.

The strategy required to connect the online and in-store space demands cross-functional talent with mixed skill sets. It goes beyond number crunching. Retailers need teams which convert data into optimized store designs and communicate consumer patterns to frontline talent with storytelling.

And with frontline talent facing higher in-store traffic and new consumer expectations, the shift in sales and retail manager skills is immense. Managers and over 35s are under increasing stress to provide a consultative approach, team leadership, understanding of e-commerce trends and manage in-store tech assets to satisfy the consumer experience.

Digital transformation has to take center stage in retailers’ future planning. This is essential for retailers to develop omnichannel brands that improve both the consumer and employee experience. Retailers need to start planning this transformation now and invest in their people’s skills to complement it.

Johandri Kieck, Global L&D Manager at Hunkemöller

People are reatilers’ missing part in capturing consumers. Retailers need to align talent and business strategy to create the deepest customer connection through their people. By upskilling and supporting their talent, retailers will not only increase talent retention but also improve consumer loyalty.

How can retailers upskill their managers, sales talent and data teams to capture consumers?

Download your retail upskilling checklist

Ready to Upskill your people & Transform your business?

We offer a scalable employee training solution. It lets you continuously upskill your people.

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