Technology Trends and Change Management in the Retail Sector

Thanks to our Assistant Director, Ruth Donnelly, for this post on current and future trends in the retail sector – Craig 

In case you hadn’t noticed, the retail sector in Edinburgh is booming. Recent figures indicated that retail spend in Edinburgh has bucked the UK trend:  

Around 27,000 people are employed in retail in the capital with this figure expected to grow with new investments in the city centre such as the refurbishment of the St James Centre and out of town developments including expansion of Fort Kinnaird.

The need for graduates has never been greater given the increasing complexities of the marketplace.

One challenge affecting most major retailers is the changing shape of the retail market – few large retailers now rely solely on trade through shops  – e.g. website accounts for 35% of the trade at John Lewis. They are transitioning to become omni -channel organisations encompassing shops, websites and call centres and as a result have different talent needs to service these inter connected channels. Recruits need to understand the complexities of the market place, have technology skills and growing focus on logistics and fulfilment.

They also need to understand changing consumer behaviour. Increasingly tech-savvy customers tend to research carefully before purchasing. Boots is one example of a retailer who is focussing on creating a good customer experience to entice online customers into their stores.  Other retailers are adding new products and services in to their shops which customers cannot purchase on line.

Harvey Nichols is a good example of a luxury goods retailer in the capital with highly qualified staff who are focused on outstanding customer service. Over 60% of their employees in Edinburgh are graduates. They speak over 30 languages in store and 99 people are fluent in more than 1 language. They are active in trying to change perceptions to make retail a career of choice for graduates. “Soft” skills they have highlighted as vital are the ability to listen rather than talk, relationship building, interview skills (including preparation and personal presentation), work ethic and an appropriate level of confidence and interpersonal skills.

Skillsmart Retail (2011)1 states that there is more of an issue with existing retail staff lacking the required skills (skills gap) than there is with employers not being able to recruit staff with the appropriate skills (skills shortage). A key skill sought in new recruits is flexibility and a positive attitude towards change.

Future trends in retail2 which will require upskilling and new approaches to recruitment include:

  • Sustainable retail, addressing environmental and social challenges
  • Social media which provides an ideal platform for marketing and to get consumers talking about goods and brands and allows retailers to be able to listen to what their customers have to say.
  • Omni channel retail – retailers need to work to make sure their services through all of these channels are streamlined and work efficiently together to give the consumer the best multichannel shopping experience available
  • Mobile payments which is an expanding along with developments in smart phones and new technologies.
  • Growth in Healthcare matching demise of NHS services and the growth of community based solutions

Some challenges in recruiting include:

  • Quality rather than quantity of applications
  • Retention
  • Finding candidates who are resilient and able to successfully manage change
  • Perceptions of careers in retail – candidates with technical skills may not choose retailers as an employer of choice or even be aware of the opportunities that exist beyond the shop floor.

Barry Blamire, John Lewis, Gordon Dingwall, Boots, Ruth Donnelly, University of Edinburgh


  1. SkillSmart Retail
  2. Adapted from AGCAS publication: Industry Insight Retail (!/fileManager/Retail_2012%20AGCAS%20Industry%20Insight.pdf), April 2012


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