thinktankIn talking with retail analysts at Gartner (Jeff Roster) and Forrester Research (Penny Gillespie and Peter Sheldon) one thing becomes painfully evident.  Retailers really, really want to become more customer centric and they understand that ecommerce is the way to do this. 

According to Forrester, the web will influence more than half of all retail sales by 2017. That’s only four years away, so the curve is steep. What is the biggest gating factor to retail growth at this point? Talent. With over 42 million people, (yes million) employed in retail, a scant 20,000 of them are computer programmers or developers. That’s .04% of total retail employment. Understanding that retail is an hourly heavy sector and that many of these jobs are in people dependent sectors like food, convenience stores and gas stations, it still makes for a talent gap that is growing. At $258 billion in projected ecommerce sales for 2013, each of those computer programmers or developers is carrying just shy of $13 billion of annual revenue on their backs. With online sales expected to grow to $370 billion by 2017, the pressure will continue to mount for talent in all aspects of ecommerce.

This talent shortage is felt acutely in the highest grossing ecommerce sectors of apparel, housewares and computer electronics. Clearly this has been the inspiration for Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, Best Buy and others to create technical labs in order to build and attract the talent base that they need. In’s recent piece The Retail Organization of 2023: The Customer is King (For Real) their research indicates that two critical investment areas are customer experience and operations.

Hire Smart or Outsource to Improve Customer Experience

In order to support customer experience needs such as visual merchandising, user experience across all touch points, analytics and transactional marketing, more technical staff will be needed in addition to far more user friendly or “consumerized” software tools. The same is true of operations where inventory management and planning, ERP, order and warehouse management and large database infrastructures will be required to support the omni-channel future.

Retail has long been a vital source of jobs for the US economy, but typically it gets a bad rap as an industry that produces low paying, hourly jobs. This is just one of the myriad things that will change in the years ahead.