The future of work for retail: digital disruption’s impact on the entire retail organization.
Digital is going to change the way people shop – it already has and will continue to in ways that are hard to even predict. Along with that, it will also undoubtedly change the future of work. Trends such as delivery services and sustainability have skyrocketed over the course of the last decade and beyond. Job titles, such as ‘Visual Content Creator’, ‘Director of Sustainability’ or ‘Digital Customer Experience Manager’, did not exist 15 years ago. Areas such as the green space, tech (including delivery automation and drone services) and further automation in all areas of business and retail are where we can see the clearest advancements – but what jobs will accompany these shifts? As technological advancements and trends occur, so will employment needs for companies, driving demand for the creation of new roles. Retailers will need to dig deeper for an understanding of what’s driving the accelerated rate of change in the industry and to respond with the corresponding strategies that match those forces.
Digitizing the retail workforce
The world and business environment is changing at such a rapid rate, that it is truly hard to draw the line of what developments we will see over the next even 10 years. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report stated that roughly half of the activities in retail can be automated using modern technology. This trend only looks to continue – the future of online retail is exciting, and not something to fear. There is a general concern that robots and automation will replace human jobs – however, with this comes an opportunity for the creation of new jobs in the future. A merger between human and AI in the retail sector will require management, regulation and monitoring – and with this, fresh opportunities for job creation.
New skill sets for retail workers are on the horizon. Organizations need to take a proactive stance in understanding how work will be done in the future and how that shift impacts what the workforce should look like, how it should be organized, and how to maximize impact to drive the business forward.
For retail, different kinds of workers will be needed as the industry evolves. There will be more need for customer service and less for cashiers; more need for problem solving and return resolution; and finally, more need for innovation and technology skills. As retail has moved increasingly online, customers now have everything at their fingertips – the only way to beat out competitors is by providing them with the best service. The same high level of expectation that employees have of their organizations is second only to the expectations of customers. How could expectations not be high, when a new digital age delivers products to people’s doors in hours versus days and a few clicks on a phone prompts a driver at their doorstep to get them where they need to go? Retailers are being forced to re-examine the in-store buying experience. For retail stores to be competitive, the buying experience must be exceptional – from the quality and uniqueness of the products being sold, to the customer’s experience with the store employees.
Employment opportunities will centre less on making the sale, and more on the service during and after the purchase. An additional benefit of more focused customer service is lowering the risk of returns, which can easily cut into margins. Monitoring the delivery of purchases will be crucial for businesses in coming years, and jobs must be created to employ this tactic well.
While automation is increasing its presence in online marketplaces, it is critical for a human element to remain in order to maximise customer satisfaction. In general, computers perform well in tasks that humans find difficult or time-consuming to do, but they tend to work less effectively in tasks that humans find easy to do. Although new technologies will eliminate some occupations, in many areas they will improve the quality of work that humans do by allowing them to focus on more strategic, value-creating, and personally rewarding tasks. A balance must be struck between the two.
Current customer service roles may be modified to merge with robots, to provide a more seamless service with less human error while retaining a human element. This merger of AI and human labour allows for both customer satisfaction while looking to the future of e-commerce, keeping up with the future business needs and trends. Robotics will create a new online retail experience.
One of the first things companies can count on is that competition for the best talent is going to become fiercer for both back-office workers (buying, stocking/merchandising, engineering, technology) and storefront workers (sales, technology, customer satisfaction and experience) because the nature of the job is changing. The storefront worker is the face of the company. And as the customer experience is becoming a major differentiator for businesses, online and digital customer service will become increasingly important.
As e-commerce and technology advancements continue to disrupt and change the retail industry, the creation of new titles and roles will also require a higher level of training. This in itself will become a new job opportunity. Technology is not the only area where trends are emerging – in recent years, there has been more emphasis on sustainability in retail and customers have become more intune with their mental health. These trends also open up doors for job creation, with the title ‘Director of Sustainability’ becoming increasingly common, more roles will be focused on ensuring customer retention by providing a more sustainable service.
The use of drones as a last-mile delivery service looks to become increasingly common over the next decade. As delivery options expand and become more technologically driven, online retailers will need to have support and staff in place to manage the advancements in delivery services. Roles surrounding monitoring these drones, in addition to other methods of delivery, will be critical to providing the best customer experience.
Additional roles that may face alternation and create new roles as a result include human resources, recruitment pivoting into selection of the best pieces of technology for the company in addition to selecting the best people, and managers shifting from managing humans but also technology. These hybrid jobs show that while technological advancements may penetrate businesses at a growing rate, this does not mean current jobs will disappear but adapt and create new employment roles for retailers.
Fergal O’Carroll is the chief revenue officer at delivery management company, Scurri, with responsibility for sales strategy and execution.
His prior roles include EMEA vice-president for commercial sales with Teradata for eight years; prior to that, he was managing director of business intelligence solutions with Avnet Client Solutions for 13 years.
Fergal holds a BA in Business Studies from the University of West London and is a native of Dublin, Ireland.