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The rise of digital roles

The rise of international and digital retail is opening up new career paths for professionals.
Written on 6/2/14

Terms such as SEO, pay-per-click and CRM would most probably have elicited blank faces in the fashion industry 10 years ago, but are now so ingrained as part of everyday ecommerce speak that retailers are ensuring their new recruits are fully versed in all things digital.

As the twin trends of digital and international retail have continued to grow, job descriptions have changed to suit the new horizons of the fashion industry. Team structures are evolving and candidates are adapting existing skill sets to move into the newly created roles.

Kara Heward, senior recruitment consultant for CVUK, says: “We’re seeing two areas of growth and have set up an international and a digital business because of the demand for both of these areas – CV Digital and CV International.”

She adds that the growth in ecommerce is reverberating across the globe. “Everyone is getting involved. Key roles used to just be ecommerce marketing and ecommerce merchandising but now it’s across the board.”

New roles on the digital side range from content and SEO managers to web designers and analysts.

“Technology moves at a rate of knots and some of our challenges have been that the businesses we are working with don’t know what they are looking for,” says Lennie Higgs, recruitment director for CVUK and manager of CV Digital. “Over the past six months there has been an influx of roles in the CRM and analytical side. Last year it was all about growing teams and growing a company’s presence from a branded marketing side. But people are now looking at the customer database that they’ve got and looking at how to cater their email marketing to them.”

Higgs says roles are now very “specific” as brands and retailers look for people with skills such as a strong background in web analytics or understanding pay-per-click campaigns. “Now they are really honing in on things. Rather than just a marketing manager they are looking for someone with specific experience in affiliate or SEO,” she says.

However, the breadth of experience wanted depends on the size of business, as smaller firms want broader skills, whereas larger companies may have an ecommerce team of 60 with each individual focusing on a different aspect.

Antony Comyns, head of ecommerce for shirt retailer Hawes & Curtis, says finding candidates with a relevant skill set can be tough in the fashion trade because of the lower salaries compared with similar roles in other industries.

“It is extremely difficult to find strong developers for permanent positions as the contractors can get jobs very easily and receive very high daily rates,” he says. “Similar skill sets are used in all sectors, with the finance sector paying for the best candidates and from there it filters down.

“Yet Comyns adds that for those wanting to work in the fashion industry more, technical and digital skills can be learnt. “We’re happy to invest in training our developers in new areas, which I believe is essential – most are happy to expand their knowledge,” he says. “For other areas such as search, content, social etc. – I am finding that our personnel are excited to advance into these areas and in most cases can pick them up through seminars, exhibitions and by working with our agencies.”

 John Lewis highlights digital marketing as the key area for emerging roles. The department store’s head of business partnering, Isabel Bennett, says teams have adapted to the changing landscape as tablet and mobile sales are now a major channel: “We’ve found partners willing and able to stretch their expertise across these areas. As an omnichannel retailer we have a good balance of partners with a strong background in shop retailing [that are] able to make the move over to ecommerce and bring with them huge amounts of insight into the shopping journey of our customers.”

Ecommerce sits hand in hand with international expansion, as the online sphere makes it easier for brands and retailers to reach shoppers in far flung destinations. As a result many businesses are seeking to recruit native speakers to assist with international territories. Russia, Germany, the Far East and the Middle East are among the most popular areas earmarked for expansion.

Emerging international roles are wide-ranging and include positions such as international sales managers, logistics directors and merchandisers.

Tracy Short, executive director at headhunter Lesley Exley Executive Search, says internationally there are a range of top-level positions such as chief customer and multichannel director roles coming to the fore, as some companies look to have a more holistic approach to their worldwide business.

“There is a lot of focus on bringing all the components together,” she explains. “People want well versed brand people with solid digital expertise, not just number crunchers, but people with a bit of flair and creativity.”

As brands and retailers dip their toes into unchartered territories businesses are on the prowl for new candidates to provide them with local knowledge. Although many recruit staff based in the countries into which they are expanding, some just want employees who have sound knowledge of a particular culture to help them cater their offering. Maternity and womenswear etailer Isabella Oliver employs 17 nationalities among its 80 staff.

“This helps give us international perspective and understanding,” says co-founder Geoff van Sonsbeeck. “We’re looking at hiring two people in the US, which will be our first people overseas. I keep it head office focused as much as I can, but it’s about being culturally savvy and understanding the market.”

He adds: “There are certain cultures where you really need cultural knowledge, like the Far East. You have to admit that you don’t understand the local culture and then you will be much more open minded. However, I am most interested in how savvy and how quickly potential employees can adapt and spot the opportunities.”

Although there are an abundance of positions for people looking to move into emerging countries, there are fewer new job roles compared with the digital sphere. Many positions are similar to these already established in the UK.

Harveen Gill, joint managing director of search firm HGA, says the international expansion of some retail businesses will cause further problems for the wider British pool of talent as some decide to move abroad.

She adds there is a lack of new talent coming through that possesses a strong suit of both digital and international abilities. “There are not enough graduates to fuel the Silicon Valley let alone the Old Street roundabout,” she says.

What retailers are looking for in a personality has also changed, says Gill. “Those that articulate their vision, their career journey, their strengths and weaknesses, are those that do well,” she says. “Your CV has to look like a world-class document. You have to think carefully about how you market yourself as a brand.”

Although the market is showing slow signs of recovery, Gill says the past six months have been tough and that HGA’s conversion rates for placing candidates into roles has dipped. “We have seen twists and turns and businesses put the brakes on with regards to recruitment,” she says.

However, the year ahead looks to be filled with optimism as recruitment firms predict a “robust” year. A surge of IPO action, with the likes of House of Fraser, Boohoo and The Hut Group planning to list next year, will encourage leadership teams to recruit new midmanagement teams, kicking off a tidal wave of recruitment activity.