RSR Research: Jobs vs. Careers in Retail
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, Retail Systems Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers.
In a typical RSR "Selling Technology Value to Retailers" (STV) session, we can have 25 technology sales representatives in a room. We’ll start the session with round-the-table introductions and the two questions we ask are, "Have you ever worked for a retailer?" and "Why did you leave?"
As you might expect, the vast majority of all the participants in STV sessions since 2005 have had at least some experience in retail as a part-time or summer/seasonal job, before going on to "get a real job" (as it is often described) in something that uses the skills they learned in school. But very few (my guess, 10 percent) have spent any significant time in the industry or worked above a purely store-clerical level. Those 10 percent who did stay became store managers, merchants or occasionally office support staff in finance and IT. But stating the obvious, 100 percent of them left retail sooner or later to work in the technology industry. For all of them, retail was not a career – it was just a job.
For all the partners at RSR, it was different. Each of us got "bitten by the retail bug." After all, the industry is very here-and-now, and feedback is nearly instantaneous from consumers whether you’ve got it right or wrong. And, retail is all about helping people; people don’t buy what they don’t want, and so meeting their needs can be very satisfying.
But for most people, retail is a stopover until something better comes along… and that seems to be a perception fostered by the industry itself. And it goes beyond low-paying, low-skill store jobs—even support positions at retail often aren’t viewed as worthy of careers.
According to government statistics, 35.8 percent of fashion retail employees and a notably larger 58.2 percent in grocery are not in "sales and related" occupations. So that’s where all the supply chain & logistics, merchandising, accounting and finance, IT, and other "support" staffs are to be found, and that’s where the industry needs an educated workforce that views retail as a good place to practice their skills and build a career.
So shouldn’t corporations invest more in education and training their future careerists by supporting stronger educational standards and programs in the communities they serve?
IT skills development in particular is not something that retail in general has focused much energy or attention on. Indeed, many companies still argue that IT is a cost center, and a troublesome one at that. But if you agree with RSR’s vision of the importance of information in the future of retail, that’s a dangerous position to take.
Discussion Questions: How does IT talent in the retail industry compare to other industries? What does the retail industry need to do to attract technology talent?