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Mind the e-commerce skills gap


Posted on 22/03/2016 by Dan Bevan

As specialist recruiters in Supply Chain & Logistics, we have seen increasing demand for employees with experience in e-commerce roles. Since Jeff Bezos set up Amazon in a 400 square foot garage in Seattle in 1994, e-commerce has been growing steadily over the last 20 years, until 2 or 3 years ago when it really took flight. Now as demand for e-commerce candidates increases daily, I thought it would be useful to put our thoughts regarding skills required for this sector in a blog. 

Not every retailer has an e-commerce function, and those that are looking to develop one come up against stiff competition for the best candidates with e-commerce skills. This issue is compounded by the fact that although many retailers have similar logistics & supply chain functions for their retail outlets, no two online options are alike, and often companies do not have a clear understanding of what their e-commerce operation will look like until it’s actually been set up.

Companies looking to set up new e-commerce operations have three options when it comes to employees;

  • Employ a candidate with all the necessary skills taken from a competitor's operation.

  • Employ a specialist contractor with all the necessary skills & experience. 

  • Look for candidates with transferable skills from other sectors.

In an ideal world, all our clients would recruit people that fulfil all their exact requirements, but what if this is not possible?

The variety of packing lines, warehousing organisation setups and supply chain systems means that no company can expect to recruit someone that can slot in 100% on day one. There are so many different e-commerce systems in fact that our clients no longer specify specific software.

For example, one of our major accounts has 3 packaging lines in their distribution centre - a line for retail outlets, a line for corporate products and finally but not least their e-commerce line. All three lines have different requirements.

Online retailing is becoming increasingly sophisticated, our clients talk about the ‘white glove approach’ where high end B2C customers receiving goods want to feel valued and demand a “white glove service” where the item is not only delivered but brought into the house, unpacked, and the deliverers remove all the packaging too.

The skills gap - what are the transferable skills to look for?

In the absence of a plethora of qualified candidates - there are supply chain & logistics skills that can be useful when looking to cross-over to an e-commerce or multi-channel environment;

1. Time-critical: Experience of time-critical supply chain - for example candidates used to working in time-critical sectors such as chilled goods (milk is a good example) or bread are great for e-commerce roles as they have a clear understanding of time-critical delivery timescales that are directly applicable to this area.

2. Fast-paced: Working in a fast-paced sector is also a great asset - e-commerce is delivered on demand in contrast to a traditional retail replenishment set-up where stock gets delivered on a regular basis. Employees must have the skills to prioritize dispatches according to a customer's requirements.

3. Flexibility: Candidates must have the desire & agility to be able to cope with the ever changing demands of multi-channel or online retailing function.

4. Customer Service: Candidates must have a clear customer facing focus, to ensure service satisfaction with the end user. 

5. Communication: Working more closely with an employer's demand, supply and marketing teams to forecast demand correctly is critical, so excellent communication skills to ensure a good synergy with other departments is absolutely key.

6. Culture Fit: This requirement never goes out of fashion. Our clients always seek out the best candidates that will fit in with their business culture, and this requirement still trumps everything else when it comes to decision time.

7. Negotiation Skills: E-commerce professionals will also often negotiate courier rates with suppliers.

As high street retailers increasingly rationalise their store portfolios in favour of online operations, the demand for great candidates with the relevant skills is only going to increase. Companies must look to retain their skilled employees, provide training for those that require it and look to employ candidates with the desire and flexibility to jump on this fast moving train before they get left behind.

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