Aside from being one of the most sensitive barometers of economic health, the retail industry is also responsible for about one in 12 workers and 5% of GDP among OECD economies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, with an almost complete halt in all activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the global retail sector was gravely hit. 

With that said, the impact differs between various channels and product categories. While fashion, luxury goods, malls and department stores did not fare well in these troubled times, a recent Ernst & Young report shows that e-commerce, consumer health, packaged foods and home care products have seen significant growth. Furthermore, even as we regroup and rethink our present circumstances, we have to look for opportunities ahead as well. Online retail penetration is only going to accelerate from here on out, new business models will no doubt emerge, and there are greater profit growth prospects to be had for online retailers and platform-related businesses. 

With setbacks and opportunities to be had in the road ahead, hiring the right talent becomes even more important. In this article, we highlight a few retail talent and skill sets you want to hire for in 2020. 

1. Merchandising mastery
Whilst many household names shut their doors due to the pandemic, it is not all doom and gloom. Many retailers have been at least partially bolstered by financial support coming from the authorities, which will remain an important area of retail. Effective merchandising and range planning ensures that once people are back in a store, there is enough stock, and the right range, to satisfy demand. Professionals with these skills will be essential in navigating the retail sector through uncertain economic times.

2. Near-sourcing
Like most things in today's market, retail functions are becoming more digitalised, as well as the way that people shop. Online functions are more convenient for most, and it means that retailers can have a wider reach to sell their products and services. Skills in near-sourcing and the ability to help set up processes that mean customers receive products and services faster will boost businesses' credibility and help to improve the overall customer experience. Not only will this improve the bottom-line, but near-sourcing can make the supply chain leaner and more efficient.           

3. Brand development
In the retail market, brand reputation can make or break an organisation. Employing people who embody and champion your brand is important to ensure that the people they are selling to or speaking with are just as bought into the business. In such a competitive market, it is beneficial to have people who know how to develop and boost brand reputation. Consumers have so many retail options these days that it is important to put yourself in the best position possible to ensure they pick you over a competitor.

4. Critical path experience
In a market that demands quick and measured decision making, it is important to ensure your team has the relevant skills and experience in order to do this correctly. A professional with skills in this area can help you to ensure products are in the right place and being delivered to the right members of your customer base. Adopting a project management approach means an organisation is able to plot the entire lifecycle of a product from sourcing to the end of the process. Having critical path experience can avoid delays, unnecessary costs, and potential consumer dissatisfaction.         

5. Improved supplier relationship 
Competition is fierce in the retail sector. If you are working with suppliers, it is crucial to continuously improve the relationships you have with your key stakeholders. To achieve this, top retailers look to hire professionals who have interpersonal skills that can improve these relationships and identify mutually beneficial strategies. Effective operation in this area can help to improve numerous areas, such as market competitiveness, faster time-to-market, and risk mitigation, which can all affect the bottom line.

6. Product lifecycle management 
Management of the product lifecycle is crucial once a product is ready to go to market. A product's lifecycle is made up of four stages: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline, and therefore professionals with experience in managing each, are highly coveted. Being able to group products based on the analysis of data and monetary gain can give your business the boost it needs to beat the competition, which is ever more important in the modern retail landscape.          

7. E-commerce conversion 
Skills in e-commerce and online conversion aren't necessarily easy to come by in the current market. However, it is becoming increasingly important for retail businesses to have a comprehensive e-commerce strategy that can boost sales whilst having a positive user experience. Today, retail businesses must keep up with the competition and have an easy-to-use, enjoyable customer journey and experience. Having an online presence is so important in a market where most shoppers choose to use online stores to purchase their products.

8. Price trading
Professionals with experience in price trading are becoming increasingly valuable to retail organisations as the pace of technological change drives fiercer competition. Pricing continues to be a main selling point for businesses, which is why it is crucial to get right. Price trading can mean changing prices daily and hourly. This might be affected by the time of day they are trading or who has the best deal in the market. This is becoming more commonplace online but it's also a trend that can be seen in stores with electronic price tags.

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