Recruiting • 27.07.2017

The retail industry needs digital experts

Companies compete for candidates and vice versa

Digital transformation calls for highly qualified staff, also when it comes to the retail sector. Specialists with years of professional experience are much sought-after and courted with creative human resources marketing campaigns. Yet this search for talent is often likened to looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

The changes that come with digital transformation are also noticeable in human resource management (HRM or HR). Whether it pertains to IT, business intelligence or e-commerce –imminent skills shortage weighs heavily on HR management. Hence it is increasingly important to educate and provide continuous training in-house for new employees or long-time staff members.

The war for talent poses challenges for recruiters

Not only are human resources managers challenged with finding qualified employees, they also have to get them excited about the company. According to the Millennial Survey 2015, published by Deloitte, members of Generation Y in Germany are least interested in the retail and transportation sectors. The 2016 Survey also revealed that Millennials are not willing to commit to a single company for a long time. “This is a challenge for companies. Investments in recruiting and training young talents do not pay off given high turnover rates. That’s why businesses should ponder which instruments and measures yield results with the respective associates, “says Nicolai Andersen, Partner and Innovation Leader at Deloitte. Now more than ever, the retail industry has to present itself as an attractive employer to get young talents with the much needed digital skills excited and willing to commit to long-term employment.

Companies like the OTTO Einzelhandelsgesellschaft (English: retail group) also notice this trend. “Young talents are aware of the fact that companies start very early to compete for their skills, especially when it comes to job profiles sought after in the job market. With OTTO group those are careers in the IT, BI and e-commerce fields but consultants, project managers, and online marketing specialists are also in high demand. Oftentimes, talents make high demands and already have several offers lined up, “explains Nicole Heinrich, Director of Staff Development and HR Marketing at OTTO Einzelhandelsgesellschaft.

The retail industry of tomorrow needs a different type of employee […]. The younger generations are destined for this because they only know the digital world, meaning they are digital retailers right from the start. That’s why the traditional retail occupations are not at risk of becoming extinct, though the requirements are undergoing fundamental changes – high time to adapt education and training accordingly. (Trend forecasting in the Retail Report 2018)

Counteracting the skills shortage and training your own employees

So on the one hand, you have digital natives who have a clear notion of their professional life. Meanwhile, on the other hand, social and economic developments spur the need for new job profiles. Things are happening in retail recruiting from both the supply and demand perspective.

The vocational career “e-commerce merchant“ or e-commerce degree programs offered at German colleges and universities are first steps in response to these changes. In collaboration with various companies of the Otto Group, the OTTO Einzelhandelsgesellschaft has also initiated the setup of this new vocational career path. “We are among the first companies in Germany to offer vocational training to become an e-commerce merchant, starting in August 2018. The pilot group of apprentices will have the chance to use the new job profile and contribute in creating contents,“ adds Heinrich.

Nicole Ewald and her team present themselves at the event Retail meets...
Nicole Ewald and her team present themselves at the event "Retail meets University" at University Duisburg-Essen in Germany. The direct contact with students is important to the company.
Source: iXtenso/Günther

REWE Group is also planning a similar opportunity. Nicole Ewald, Director of Employer Branding & Recruiting at Rewe German Headquarters says, “Our subsidiary REWE Digital is currently working on offering the e-commerce merchant training course in the near future. We would like to keep up with the times and stay current with our apprenticeship programs and offer members of Generation Z an attractive start into working life.“

In addition to the classic apprenticeship training programs, both companies also offer dual degree or scholarship programs. “This is why OTTO has introduced the e-commerce dual degree program four years ago as part of our endowed chair at the University of Applied Sciences Wedel, aimed at fostering young talent for our company.“ Universities such as the Ernst Abbe University of Applied Sciences Jena also recognize the trend and introduce new degree programs that exclusively focus on e-commerce and digital retail.

Reverse mentoring: “Old dogs“ learn from digital natives

According to an IFH study from 2016, digitization is the reason more than half of the existing professions in retail are changing. More than one-third of new job profiles have been created since 2011, among them e-commerce manager, chief digital officer or CRM manager. Having said that, is it sufficient to just press ahead with new types of vocational careers or degree programs? After all, vocational training or academic studies take at least three years to complete. Therefore, why not invest in people who already know all the ins and outs of the company and welcome all the new challenges?

Next to various external and in-house continuing education options, reverse mentoring programs where the “old dogs“ can learn new tricks from digital natives, are perfectly suited for this. The Estée Lauder Company is well aware of this fact and has turned its millennial associates into consultants. Among other things, they support their older colleagues in understanding Snapchat and shopping apps. At this point, major companies like Deutsche Telekom, Bosch, Time Warner, IBM, and Nokia take advantage of the reverse mentoring process.

OTTO’s human resource marketing team at gamescom....
OTTO’s human resource marketing team at gamescom.
Source: OTTO-Einzelhandelsgesellschaft

So how do you attract new talents for your company?

Job openings are just one side of the coin, the posting and advertising process the other. Front and center is the challenge for recruiters to analyze the relevant target groups and better understand their needs, requirements, and values. Once this is in place, relevant measures are taken to address the respective target groups by using customized communication channels.

This is why at REWE Group, active sourcing in corporate and administrative services is a blend of online communication, mobile marketing and social media venues like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Xing. Ewald explains, “These channels are a great foundation to exchange information and get in touch with interested users and relate current events pertaining to the company. We also take detailed reviews on Kununu very seriously (Editor’s Note: Kununu is an employer review and rating platform), address them and make a statement or comment whenever possible.“

The OTTO Einzelhandelsgesellschaft also emphasizes multichannel HR marketing. In addition to the channels REWE is using already, the company also utilizes target group-specific portals such as or and is also present on Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat. Both companies also feature their own career portals.

Action at the event “Online Marketing Rockstars” in Germany....
Action at the event “Online Marketing Rockstars” in Germany.
Source: OTTO-Einzelhandelsgesellschaft

Creative employer branding measures versus artificial intelligence recruiting

If publications in relevant human resources media outlets are to be believed then recruiting is primarily an artificial intelligence and Chatbots issue these days. That being said, the classic success factor is often being ignored in this case: that being the empathic abilities of human resource management.

According to Heinrich, despite the fact that the OTTO Einzelhandelsgesellschaft is well aware of these new solutions and is known to occasionally test tools such as Livechats and Snapchat sessions for selective applications, the company still prefers to rely on face-to-face contact over Chatbots. “It’s important for us to generate attention across all channels. However, we are also acutely aware of the importance of face-to-face communication. This is why we greatly use recruiting events as touchpoints for our active sourcing. To do this, we have previously rented a movie theater or were represented at the Gamescom trade fair last year, “adds Heinrich.

In addition to implementing classic employer branding concepts, Rewe Group also gives emphasis to approaching the target group directly. “In an increasingly digital world and social media overload, it is important for us to personally communicate with potential job candidates. This is the only way we are able to deliver first-hand insights into the different career fields, talk about exciting projects and maybe even address and remove occasional reservations and prejudices.“

Author: Melanie Günther, iXtenso

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