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Skills gap identified: how retailers can empower staff through technology adoption

By 13th February 2024February 15th, 2024No Comments

The Coronavirus pandemic caused drastic changes in the external environment, sending shockwaves through the retail industry. A distant yet surreal moment in time, the crisis forced retailers to change business operations overnight, many to e-commerce in attempt to disperse in-store customer visits.

The industry then faced a cost-of-living crisis with customers showing a savviness in their shopping habits. This consumer behaviour shift pushed many major high street chains into administration, including Wilko and Debenhams, leaving thousands without jobs.

And now, retail is now grappling with a digital skills gap.

The demand for employees to have digital expertise is rising rapidly as the industry’s post-Covid digital transformation continues apace.

Sympathetic to these challenges, we’re sharing insights into how retailers can empower their workforce through technology adoption and navigate the turbulent waters of modern retail.

“A scarcity of skills in emerging technologies is a growing problem for retailers.”

Retail Times

Mastering digital in retail

Retail leaders say the digital skill gap is their biggest challenge in building a multichannel approach to sales and a consistent and positive customer experience. But like every other sector, retail’s competing for people who already have digital skills.

As both brick-and-mortar and online retail operations become increasingly complex and integrated with technology, retailers need staff with the necessary digital skills to meet their objectives, which on top of improving customer service, are increasing efficiencies, boosting sales, and reducing costs.

Whether they’re on the shop floor or working at head office, retail employees need to be comfortable and efficient at using all kinds of technology.

Here are just a few examples…

Digital skills are now required in 79% of UK retail jobs and retailers say the skills gap is their biggest challenge in building an omnichannel business
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Collaboration tools
A pair of hands holding a phone with Microsoft Teams on the display with paperwork in the background

Collaboration tools

Adoption of cost-effective collaboration tools, including Microsoft 365, has surged +338% in the retail sector, enhancing communication and collaboration among staff and improving customer service.

A human hand pointing the index finger mirrored by a robotic hand

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is a growing area in retail for things like customer support chatbots, demand forecasting, automated inventory management, and customer sentiment analysis. As an example, Puma's using AI for personalised customer styling.

A laptop displaying graphs and the Microsoft Dynamics 265 logo

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software

From tracking customer interactions and gathering insights to personalising marketing efforts, CRM software like Microsoft Dynamics 365 plays a role in enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Inventory Management
A man and a woman wearing hard hats looking at a laptop in a warehouse

Inventory management

How much stock you've got, what's selling, and when to reorder products are critical need-to-knows for retailers. Digital inventory management platforms replace time-consuming and unreliable manual record-keeping methods for this very purpose.

E-comm platforms
A magnifying glass next to a tiny shopping trolley containing small boxes with the words online shopping written on them

E-commerce platforms

The world of e-commerce platforms is vast, some familiar names include Shopify and Magneto, and each have their pros and cons. It’s important for retailers to choose the right option for customers to buy products easily.

Data analytics
People sitting at a desk working on laptops with data on the screens

Data analytics

What are people adding to their favourites? What are they buying? What makes them return? Customer behaviour, sales trends, and market insights need to be easily distilled to enable data-driven decision-making and targeted marketing strategies.

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So, where exactly is the gap?

Retailers must identify where the skill gaps are across the business before they think about ways to empower their staff through technology adoption.

By establishing current skill levels and areas for improvement, companies can develop tailored training programmes to enhance the technological proficiency of their staff.

At Inform, we carry out training needs analyses for organisations across all sectors, including retail. This unearths the knowledge gaps to develop the right training solutions that’ll set your people up for success.

In parallel with identifying skills gaps, retailers should evaluate their existing technology stack and assess their digital talent pool.

“It is the smallest businesses and sole traders who are furthest behind in terms of low digital skills and low adoption of digital technology.”

Good Things Foundation

Next step: invest in team growth

Once the digital skills gaps have been identified, a training and upskilling programme can be developed. Not all retail workers are the same, because they’re not doing the same kind of work, so this will need to be tailored to each employee’s specific role and the technology they work with or may need to work with in future.

Take retail giant M&S as a glowing example. They upskilled more than 280 colleagues through dedicated digital training programmes that made a difference to how the organisation thinks and operates, without needing to recruit externally.

“In order to keep pace with our colleagues’ and customers’ evolving needs, we are embracing digital tools like Teams to work in a more modern way that supports our vision for the future of retail.” 

Sacha Berendji, Group Property, Store Development and Technology Director at Marks & Spencer

As well as using Teams, retailers could consider providing opportunities for employees to learn and engage with no code low code technologies, such as Power Apps. These can be used for things like providing guidance to retail sales teams when new features are available automatically and directly in a Teams channel, capturing customer feedback, managing workflows, or carrying out store walks.

A group of six colleagues standing together laughing with one man holding a laptop

The benefits of investing in retail workers’ personal development with technology are two-fold:

    1. The individual can add another string to their bow by broadening their skillset.
    2. The company will see heightened output, collaboration, and productivity as a result.

While retailers will need to carve out time in their employees’ schedules for focused training on new tools, it’ll pay dividends in the long run. Add a champions programme into the mix and upskilling can be expedited through knowledge-sharing across the workforce.

Foster don’t force: culture and people

Culture isn’t something that’s delivered from the top-down, it’s organic and taps into our most innate human impulses to influence what we do and how we work. Retailers need to foster a culture of continuous learning and innovation to empower employees through technology and keep up with the pace of change.

Through gaining qualitative feedback from staff, retailers can identify areas where technology can be used more effectively, address any challenges, and pinpoint gaps for upskilling.

For example:

  • How are staff currently using technology?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Are the existing technologies and systems slowing down processes?
  • What technology would help them do their jobs better?
  • Do they need any training?

This approach also sends a clear message that tech expertise is valued and personal growth is a priority.

If people are willing to learn different, dynamic ways of working, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t thrive.

Emma WatkinsonCo-founder and CEO, SilkFred

Time’s of the essence

Retail isn’t immune to the prevalent digital skills gap. Amid the challenges faced in recent years, the industry needs to take the necessary steps to address this gap and empower their staff.

It starts with identifying areas where training’s needed, then implementing tailored training programmes with consideration for company culture and what motivates their people to learn.

But retail leaders need to learn too. By asking questions, they start to uncover the barriers associated with engaging with technology, and harnessed with insight, can ensure their people gain the skills they so sorely need to improve the customer experience, save time, and ultimately, increase profit.

In retail and want to prioritise what matters? Talk to us today about your technology adoption project.

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