Technology gives retail & consumer sector the ‘kiss of life’

Jobs in the retail and consumer space increased by +16% in Q1 of this year, and the number of vacancies in the past 12 months topped anything we saw pre-pandemic in 2019 by +59%.

According to recruiter Robert Walters, the emergence of technology in all its forms – from apps & online to VR, financial and deliveries – has given the Britain’s largest single industry a well-needed facelift, with tech roles now representing a quarter (24%) of all new job vacancies in the sector.

Retail plays catch-up with the help of tech

The findings from Robert Walters reveals how the retail and consumer goods sector has been slow to innovate behind other industries – with that gap now closing and the consumer goods and services sector making up 10% of all new tech hires in the UK. 

In the past year, the retail sector has rose in the ranks to be the third biggest industry to hire tech professionals, increasing by 4% year-on-year – behind the tech industry itself (+9%) and the UK’s burgeoning banking sector (+20%).

According to Robert Walters, the following 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:

  1. Automation
  2. Online, Apps & Cybersecurity
  3. E-commerce meets Buy Now Pay Later
  4. Augmented & Virtual Reality

Mat Knutton – Associate Director of Robert Walters – comments: “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 futureproofing 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. Already we have seen the transformation in supermarkets to self-service checkouts. Delivery services are next. Just Eat recently cut 1,700 delivery driver jobs – just as robotics company Starship Technologies have been granted rights to run trials on food pickup and delivery robots across the UK.

Mat comments: "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 we have seen 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.

Mat adds: “The data that is required and stored by retailers from loans, store credit, and BNPL schemes goes much further than the loyalty card schemes we have seen 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.”

E-Commerce: the arrival of fintech

Perhaps the biggest link to the 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%.

Matt adds: “BNPL schemes have been a crucial element of driving the growth of online retailers, now more than ever amidst the rising cost-of-living – with the schemes enabling customers to buy online regardless of their bank balance.”

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 has 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.

Findings from Robert Walters have showcased early signs of hiring for more developers, engineers, and infrastructure specialists across retail – although it is too early to identify whether this will be sustained.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of whether we will see more of AR & VR in the retail sector is the rise in demand for tech and IT consultants – up by +27% this quarter. Could retailers be sourcing external insight and specialists to weigh up what the next digital gamechanger will be for their company and sector?