Retail industry braces for e-commerce challenge

Australia’s retail and consumer products industry faces unique challenges in the lead up to the festive season.

August trade figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed lower than expected year-on-year sales growth and consumer confidence remains below average levels. Meanwhile, many retailers are bracing for the arrival of e-commerce giant Amazon. 

For the first time since 2014, job ads on SEEK for the retail and consumer products industry remained flat for the three-month period from July to September. Kendra Banks, Chief Commercial Officer for SEEK Australia and New Zealand, says that while this is traditionally a busy hiring period for retailers as they build up their seasonal workforce for the festive months, the industry has been facing a number of headwinds. 

“These include globalisation, increasing competition for domestic retailers, subdued growth in wages and household incomes, and more recently, higher gas and electricity prices adding to cost of living pressures,” she says. “A concern for a number of retailers is of course the arrival of Amazon, which is expected to tighten margins for retailers further, due to their competitive prices.”

Working to deliver

One retailer poised for Amazon’s arrival is Australia Post. The country’s largest retailer almost trebled its full-year profit to $95 million, according to figures released in August. Australia Post also recently announced a new delivery program called Shipster, which is anticipated to go head-to-head with Amazon Prime by offering benefits such as free delivery to customers who sign up to the service for a small monthly fee. 

At Australia Post Group, the festive season always comes early with hiring of seasonal staff beginning in August.  The organisation currently employs 34,000 people across its Post, StarTrack, SecurePay and Decipha entities. 

“Each of these businesses are like a big business in themselves,” explains Rebecca Houghton Group Manager, Resourcing and Careers at Australia Post. “One of the largest logistics businesses in Australia, a huge retail footprint supported by multiple customer service channels, a massive digital development business, and of course the corporate functions that support all these great employees to do their best work. We’re not just large and complex, but also a proudly diverse workplace.”

When it comes to recruitment, Australia Post looks for people with a range of capabilities, however Houghton says its most critical requirements boil down to two qualities: integrity and customer-centricity. “I’m confident that if you peeked into any workplace at Australia Post, whether it be our facilities, outlets or offices, you would see these two characteristics in action every day.”

To attract talent to its diverse network, Australia Post focuses on a mix of work-life balance and flexibility, salary and benefits, and workplace culture. “We also dig deeper into meaning, motivation and purpose,” says Houghton. “Our single common thread across all job families is our people – their stories, their networks, their motivation and their balanced and trusted view of what it means to work here is our secret for finding, onboarding and retaining talent.”

Impact of e-commerce

The rise of e-commerce has had an impact on most retailers, including Australia Post, which long ago diversified into digital services. 

Figures from the NAB’s latest Online Sales Index shows year-on-year online retail growth was stronger in August with sales up by 10.3% compared to the same time last year.

Tania Wallace, Manager - Retail at Six Degrees Executive, says the rise of online shopping is creating greater demand for talent.

“Retailers continue to invest in technology platforms which has led to increased access to data, the creation of new roles and greater sophistication in strategy development” she explains. “Roles such as data scientists, digital analysts and CRM all have a customer focus and bring different data sets together to create a single customer view. This talent has traditionally been sought by fast-moving consumer goods companies or very sophisticated retailers, however now we are seeing a wider range of retailers using digital information to make important decisions and this is creating greater demand for talent with this capability.”

Wallace notes that demand for management candidates with strong leadership skills is also on the rise. The latest data from SEEK Employment trends show job ads for department/assistant management roles were up by 5% year-on-year from July to September. “Future leaders need to be able to motivate and inspire people and this requires strong interpersonal skills,” she says.

When it comes to recruiting the best talent in the retail and consumer products industry, Wallace says employers must paint a picture of their business goals and how a candidate fits within them. “Employers need to take candidates on a journey to understand where they are going,” she says. “They also need a robust recruitment process as talented candidates are receiving multiple offers. Your process should well structured, informed, efficient and timely.”

As the retail and consumer products industry gears up for the festive season, there may be challenges to overcome. Attracting and retailing the best talent will be key to a successful strategy.

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SEEK is the destination of choice for job-seekers and hirers in Australia, acting as the conduit between hirers looking to fill vacant roles and candidates looking for work across many and varied industries. SEEK's mission is to help people...

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