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The evolution of the HR role in department stores

press March 2022 Press Release

Working in retail has radically changed after the Covid-19 pandemic, and companies are responding by improving attractiveness to both traditional candidates and tech talents.

Now that consumers are coming back to stores and business is rising again, retail functions are under tension, leading to staff shortages. In addition to these difficulties, which are far from over, talents from inside or outside of the companies have new expectations in terms of work purpose, leadership and work environment. IADS recently took stock of its members’ initiatives when it comes to attracting and retaining talents.

New work-from-home practices, organisational digitization and flexibility in terms of locations and schedules have left a durable mark on all types of retail jobs. Be it in digital, store operation, food and restaurant roles, but also in logistics, marketing and merchandising, all functions are under pressure. In addition, the employment market has evolved and so have candidates’ expectations. IADS members are therefore adapting and reviewing their approach to recruitment, talent retention and career management.

For most of them, the game-changer is not how much jobs are paid, but how to up the game in terms of non-financial benefits, to attract talents from outside traditional retail recruitment pools.

Non-financial benefits: it is all about flexibility, permanent learning and individualization

Post-Covid, companies offering a good professional and personal life balance, as well as flexible options in terms of work location and schedule, have a true competitive advantage in candidates’ eyes. This is especially the case when it comes to attracting talents from tech companies, recruited to lead the digital transformation. Although the question of remote working is complicated for retailers, they are setting up new rules to both offer flexible conditions and guarantee work efficiency, through several solutions:

  • Avoid the reliance on a 100% digital approach and organise periodic real-life interactions,
  • Make sure that strategic issues are addressed in the office,
  • Delegate to team managers of the responsibility to decide where their team is working.

This approach remains a work in progress as the productivity measurement can still be a question mark.

In parallel, IADS members are investing in their corporate training programmes, complemented by external training methods, to fully develop their teams. This is needed for all types of talent:

  • Existing employees who need to be trained to follow up with the evolution of their positions, as exemplified by sales associates who see their role becoming more complex,
  • New talents with previous experience in tech who, when working for retail companies, often spend more time explaining and disseminating knowledge to their team and/or peers, than learning new skills, at the expense of their knowledge or competitiveness on the market.

Permanent training has therefore become a basic expectation from all employees, and personalised development plans are enhanced to offer perspectives and retain talents. This is achieved through mentoring, leadership programmes that increase empowerment, and an appropriate performance measurement matrix.

Finally, large retail companies can sometimes be weighed down by their history or structure: executives from the tech world join retail to expand their horizons and expect to have access to more topics and functions, which is not easy for companies organised in silos. Organisations are therefore redesigning themselves to set up the right environment, more efficient and seamless, interlinking departments and ensuring the creation of links between team members and a desirable working atmosphere.

It's all about employer branding!

The employer’s brand is more crucial than ever, as candidates often make their decisions not only on the prospects offered by the potential career but also on a series of other criteria. As a consequence, retailers are polishing their career platforms, cultivating their relationships with universities, and also increasing their social media presence. Instagram, mostly appealing to sales, catering and logistics functions, is great to show inspiring examples and to inform about the company culture and benefits, while LinkedIn targets IT employees. Influence goes beyond social media: rewarding existing employees that give referrals with gift vouchers or bonuses is extremely successful and allows to target recruitments. Brand ambassadors will also be considered in the future.

Company culture and values can be a deal breaker. It is particularly critical when it comes to attracting non-retail tech executives. Given their background, they are expecting authenticity, a feeling of belonging, sustainable engagement, a purpose from the company they are working with, an impactful job, and an entrepreneurial mindset. However, despite the company values themselves, the retail industry can somehow lack attractiveness. It is all about conveying the message that retail companies have evolved and are much more tech-oriented than in the past.

Creatively redesigning financial benefits

Benefits remain an important competitive advantage and many retailers recently raised their basic salary, offered sign-on bonuses, extra bonuses to employees staying long-term, or increased pay during peak hours. Offering a competitive health and insurance plan is also a crucial advantage. Some are also rethinking their compensation structures to both improve them and decide whether online sales should be included in the sales associates’ bonuses, to encourage an omnichannel mindset.

Perks also show companies are caring. Employee personal discounts are a must and can be used to reward high performers. However, money is not the only lever: some retailers are offering mobile phones, Spotify subscriptions, free gym memberships, life insurance, or free access to an online physician and prescription service.

Being attractive to talents requires structural changes to make benefits competitive, set up relevant career management strategies, and improve the attractiveness of the company culture itself. For sure employees are expecting their jobs to be rewarding, but the non-financial part is progressively becoming more important than before. People also want to be part of a community and be proud of their workplace. Despite the company culture and values usually being very strong inside of department store companies, they are not always visible and ‘sexy’ enough from the outside to attract talents. The current reassessments and shifts in HR strategies are key to solving the current talent management issues, but also to prepare the future of leadership.

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