The retail sector employs around 3 million in the UK. It is one of the few areas of business and commerce that still has substantial numbers of high level managers who started out working on the shop floor.

But the rapid advance of technology, the arrival of Big Data, changing patterns of consumer decision making and the imminent General Data Protection Regulations are just some of the game changing developments of recent times.

Is it enough anymore to recruit on the basis of product and brand knowledge and extensive experience of retail operations? Does the sector need to look more “outside” itself to recruit executives for head offices and store management positions?

Technologically astute

Millennials see the world very differently from preceding generations. This includes relaying on handheld technology (and increasingly wearable technology) for much of their decision making.

Modern retail executives need to think as they do. They need to be comfortable around technology – whatever department they head up. Retailers need to recruit increasing numbers of executives who have such skill sets as data analysis and data protection, whatever their industry background.

IT is no longer a separate function: it now informs, supports and even controls every aspect of business.

From goods arriving in store which have been tracked with pinpoint accuracy (their condition as well as their location) to detailed point of sale data collection, IT is part of every executive’s remit.

To stay competitive, every retailer in the UK needs to be looking at “the next big thing”. At present, that is remote retailing to enable customers to pre-order items before they arrive in physical stores. Eventually, it will involve customers walking into stores, taking things off shelves and leaving again with instant, digital billing. Sounds futuristic? It’s already here with Amazon Go, a pilot the retail giant is running in the US.


Automation and streamlining processes are driving forces in retail. This means that executive teams need to recruit on the basis of adaptable, transferrable skills.

You can no longer truly specialise in one aspect of running a retail operation. To create agile and “lean” business functions you need flexible executives with a clear vision of how their responsibilities impact on all aspects of the business. Every single executive needs business acumen, whatever their job title.

Emotionally intelligence

Staff turnover has to be kept to a minimum, and customer service has to be the driving force, in such a competitive sector.

Retail Executive recruitment therefore needs managers who are not only capable and experienced, but also intuitive and emotionally intelligent.

They need to lead from a position of confidence and trust, but also with excellent communications skills and the ability to get the best out of their teams.

Recruit from within?

Clearly if these attributes are inherent in staff who have worked their way up from the shop floor, promoting them is an easy decision.

However, product knowledge, years of loyalty to the brand and time-served at the sharp end of the stick, may not count for as much as they once did. Modern retail businesses have a long list of personal and business attributes they need from managers. To some degree, how those skills were acquired comes second to a grasp of modern consumerism.

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