By Mario Toneguzzi
The retail landscape has had its fair share of bad news recently with announcements of several retail stores in Canada closing down.
And while the so-called retail apocalypse weighs heavily on people’s minds, an interesting trend is developing in the industry - recently a staffing agency said retail jobs are now the most in demand in Canada. And while jobs in the industry are being shed because of some bricks and mortar shutterings there’s also a revolution taking place as many new jobs are being created to meet the growing demand in the ecommerce space.
“Interestingly, self-serve type retailers are easily replaced by ecommerce. Take Toys R Us, PayLess Shoes as examples. Look at Sears Canada. Their demise started when they went from being a service-heavy store to a basically self-serve mode. You couldn’t find a clerk for anything,” said Sears. “The self-serve model is particularly fragile. Now, they tended to have done high volume, but with low staffing. That led them open very much to leveraged buyouts. Finance firms buying them are now using them as simply profit centres. So they stopped being retailers altogether in essence. They were almost a version of ecommerce that had bricks and mortar and it was unsustainable and as a result, they completely lost the game.
“Now, you take all the new people coming in who are opening, expanding, and showing amazing growth, they’re actually people heavy. They’re employment heavy. They are hiring experts. They are training experts. There’s a huge demand for retail if you’re a specialist. A specialist in luxury. A specialist in tech. A specialist in cosmetics. A specialist in events. It’s a different kind of retail that’s screaming for talent versus the retail that’s shutting down which was basically clerk based, low skilled. There’s a great demand for high skill, low demand for the checkout level.”
The shift to ecommerce is also creating employment and careers.
“Ecommerce still needs people to operate it. But now you’re talking about needing technical people. You’re needing ecommerce merchandisers, marketing experts, inventory experts. Those same people used to exist in big box, regular retail, well now ecommerce needs exactly the same people so there’s still the demand. Nothing’s really changed at that level,” said Sears. “In fact, they need more.
“The huge Amazon warehouses that are all robotics. Robotics takes engineers to operate them. If these organizations actually had training programs, you could virtually take anybody right out of school, train them and groom them and put them into your stream. That used to be the case in retail. You had all the major organizations - Hudson’s Bay, Sears Canada - they all had management development programs, buying development programs. They trained their own people. Thus you had people who stayed with them for 20, 30 years. They paid to educate the people and thus they retained them.”
But Sears said that in the tough times, around 2008, the lowest hanging fruit was the easiest thing to slash for retailers and that was people. “And there went the training programs. There went the management development programs. And concurrently, loyalty to the employer evaporated. Then it became who is paying the most.”
“Now, these retailers wake up 10 years later and they don’t have a pipeline of talent to promote. They’re constantly having to go to market to try and buy talent and sadly they don’t have the tools to do it very well,” said Sears.
“Ads don’t work anymore. You can put an ad up for a horse and buggy all you want but there aren’t a lot of buyers and it’s roughly the equivalent. They don’t have the methodologies for obtaining people, attracting them or keeping them. They don’t have the internal programs they used to have. Retail used to be a whole dedicated career but what retail has become is a task - a project - two years here, three years there.”
“While the news is full of national retailers closing down stores, there remains plenty of retail expansion from new brands comprised of ecommerce sites opening bricks and mortar locations, European and new American retailers seeing high margins achieved in Canadian retail and tech-related enterprises. That’s driving the retail hiring rate these days.”
For example, according to Statistics Canada, the wholesale and retail trade sector saw the addition of 33,900 jobs across the country from December to January.
Suzanne Sears said there has also been a shift in retail to customer experience which is creating demand for jobs that barely existed five years ago such as event planners, visual expert teams, trainers, group team hosting, social media experts, community liaison staff, ecommerce experts.
“Retail failed to predict the retail apocalypse coming. They did not build the groundwork to integrate these skilled workers into their organization to develop them. Now they are madly scrambling to find this talent which for the most part has next to zero retail experience,” she added.
“Retail is no longer a simple case of purveyors of fine goods. It’s become entertainment. It needs to become a Cirque du Soleil type of organization so it needs to hire entertainers and the support teams this requires. These types of retail staffers just don’t exist. Retail needs to learn from the entertainment giants like Cirque du Soleil on how to run a massive entertainment and merchandising organization.”
Sears said retail stores over the past few years have remained static. Foot traffic in many cases has actually decreased. Ecommerce has grown. The huge investment already in bricks and mortar has to be defended. The only way to do that is to make retail entertainment or experiential driven.
“So we have a range of new roles being created at every level. Retail has done a miserable job in the last decade of positioning themselves as employers of choice with real careers to offer. They are better known as the ‘no training, no advancement, no notice sent home no work’ sector of employment. They have a massive branding issue to address along with a massive internal restructuring to initiate if they hope to survive,” she said.
In January, staffing agency Randstad Canada released its report on Emerging Jobs in Canada.
“While the Most in Demand Jobs for 2019 cover a wide range of sectors and skill levels, three of the roles are in retail: sales associate, cashier and merchandiser. Positive news for an industry that’s seen many chains close bricks and mortar stores in the past year,” it said.
Last week Retail Insider reported on Suzanne Sears’ new membership-based recruitment initiative, helping retailers find and retain staff at a considerably lower cost than traditional recruiting.
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.