Industry HR expert Karen Richards discusses the specific skills and experience needed to succeed in a senior role within retail technology
The retail industry has undergone a huge transformation, said Karen Richards, head of retail & consumer markets search at global human resources (HR) services group Penna
“With globalisation, advances in technology and changes in disposable income setting the agenda,” Richards said, “organisations are constantly on the hunt for senior professionals with a track record of being able to not only keep up with the times, but stay one step ahead of the game”.
At present this challenge, as discussed by senior retail professionals from brands such as Snow+Rock and HMV in Penna’s report Mindset of the Multichannel Leader
is to create consistent branding and a positive customer experience across all channels – whether instore or online.
“You only have to walk into a variety of stores to see examples of retailers setting the agenda,” continued Richards. “For example, it’s common to see retail employees use instore iPads to access stock information or organise deliveries for customers. So even if customer doesn’t walk out with a physical shopping bag, they leave with the buzz of having just purchased a new item. It is creating this seamless experience across all channels that, ultimately, organisations are looking to retail professionals to deliver.”
Payment architecture and customer experience
Mirroring the evolution of the retail industry and customer demands, Richards pointed out that a role within retail technology has changed considerably with lines blurring with customer experience professionals. “Whereas online used to be seen as an additional revenue driver for retailers, with technical professionals setting up the basic payment architecture, an easy-to-use purchase process is now a crucial part of the customer experience and one that professionals must accommodate,” she said.
“Nothing is more infuriating to a customer than having a complex payment system. In fact one major rail provider recently overhauled its entire payments system, as purchasing tickets would open so many new windows that the customer didn’t know which webpage to look at or enter details into – resulting in many leaving before completing the transaction. Streamlining the payments process, making pricing clear throughout – with no nasty surprises at the end when the customer has to pay for their final shopping basket – is crucial to engagement and repeat custom.”
However the retail expert said some retailers have the tendency to focus on creating a great visual experience for their customers, ensuring that products are appealing online – with zoom functions, product reviews, high quality photography and so on – that pricing architecture can fall behind. “Therefore, technical professionals need to be driving the pricing architecture agenda internally; ensuring that customer experience during the final stage of purchasing is equally seamless,” she advised.
The role of internal communicator
Organisations are looking for senior retail technology professionals that can demonstrate how they engage with different teams internally. “As well as setting up payment architecture, technical professionals also have to access and analyse valuable consumer behaviour data which needs to be disseminated internally with marketing and finance departments, for example,” added Richards. “This data can then be used to influence decisions for the entire business, so professionals need to ensure that they tailor their language and terminology accordingly to engage with different stakeholders effectively.”
While good communication skills are crucial to senior roles, traditional qualifications such as a computer science degree still have value according to Richards. “But what organisations are particularly looking for is direct experience and certification in the relevant technologies that they are using. Combining this with a strategic vision and the ability to understand and communicate with the wider business is vital.
“Overall, retailers are looking to join their channels together and have a single view of the customer as well as sell internationally. Therefore,” she concluded, “senior professionals that can demonstrate this from a technical, customer experience and data perspective will be in good stead for the future.”