Retail now third biggest recruiter of tech staff

Xmas Day shopping online

Online shopping has driven a tech revolution in retail (pic: Terry Murden)

Britain’s evolving retail industry is benefiting from the technology revolution, with the sector now one of the biggest recruiters of tech talent.

According to recruitment agency Robert Walters, the emergence of technology in all its forms – from apps & online to VR, financial services and deliveries – has given the Britain’s largest single industry a well-needed facelift.

The research reveals how the retail & consumer goods sector has been slower to innovate than other industries. But that gap is narrowing.

In the past year, the retail sector has risen in the ranks to become the third biggest recruiter of tech professionals, increasing by 4% year-on-year – behind the tech industry itself (+9%) and the banking sector (+20%). 

According to Robert Walters, four areas of tech are having a profound impact on the retail market and will continue to drive new hires in the next 12 months:  They are automation; online apps & cybersecurity; e-commerce; and augmented and virtual reality.

Jobs in the retail & consumer space increased by 16% in the first quarter of this year, and the number of vacancies in the past 12 months were 59% up on pre-pandemic 2019. Tech roles now represent a quarter (24%) of all new job vacancies in the sector.

Mat Knutton, associate director at Robert Walters, said: “The arrival of tech has been the retail industry’s saving grace – from fintech driving online sales, automation software solving skills shortages and saving on delivery times, to augmented reality allowing customers to virtually try-on products – reducing the number of customer returns. 

“All of these transformations are future-proofing retail and giving the UK’s largest single employer a chance to stay in the game. Employment won’t necessarily decrease, the roles will ultimately change – with tech and digital being at the core.”

Automation: Solving the Skills Shortage

Increasingly software and machines are replacing low-wage roles, such as the transformation in supermarkets to self-service checkouts. Delivery services are next. Just Eat recently cut 1,700 delivery driver jobs and robotics company Starship Technologies has been granted rights to run trials on food pickup and delivery robots across the UK.

Mr Knutton said: “The scaremongering of jobs being replaced sets a bad tone for this transition. Automation will allow the UK’s consumer goods & services sector to be globally competitive and profitable – creating organisations with fewer layers and higher quality talent. 

“With the emergence of AI & automation, better training will be enlisted to empower professionals to be able to use real-time data and analytics. 

“The winners in the sector will be those who understand these implications and act quickly to address them.”

Cybersecurity: Rise of Online/App Usage  

In the past year there has been a 70% increase in demand for IT & Cybersecurity roles coming from the retail sector. 

Robert Walters analysts link this sharp increase directly to the rise of app usage within the sector – with three quarters of brits stating that they now prefer to do their shopping online. 

The data that is required and stored by retailers from loans, store credit, and BNPL schemes goes much further than the loyalty card schemes introduced over the past decade as the primary form of data collection. 

“As we switch to cashless and online purchases, retailers for the first time are handling hordes of sensitive information – and so online security protocols need to be stepped up significantly if these brands are to avoid any bad PR in the way of data breaches,” said Mr Knutton.

E-Commerce: The arrival of fintech 

The research suggests the biggest need for cybersecurity professionals has been around the rise in prominence of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) schemes pushed by retailers to help drive online sales. According to credit report agency Experian, searches for Buy Now Pay Later products are up 33%.

AR/VR: A new dimension to bricks & mortar 

Online reviews have been invaluable for people looking to buy ahead of time, but what about being able to visualise what you are buying before you even walk into a shop? 

Virtual try-ons (VTOs) are being used by the likes of Nike, Ray-Ban and L’Oréal for customers to test items before they purchase. While Hugo Boss hs recently trialled a Picto-fit Mirror, where customers can try-on pieces only available online through a tablet and smart mirror combination now available at all of its UK stores. 

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