Comment: The need for digital talent has never been more important

The direction of travel in the retail sector is clear – the rise and rise of the technology industry has created exciting new opportunities that are changing consumer behaviour. For retailers to stay ahead of the curve, they must retain and develop their digital talent.

Technological advances provide a significant opportunity for retail outlets. London’s digital tech sector has grown by 46% since the launch of Tech City five years ago. The companies that have taken full advantage of this are now reaping the rewards. In October last year the online retailer Shop Direct – the company behind amongst others – posted a 512% increase in pre-tax profits.

The current landscape is one in which ASOS enjoyed a 15% rise in profits in the six weeks to the 9th of January 2015, while in just nine months last year 964 shops closed in town centres across the UK.

Retail giants may be able to spread their assets across their high street and online bases, but financial constraints prohibit independent retailers from doing the same.

Digital talent is critical for fostering the creativity and innovation that has been behind some of the most exciting new developments in retail. These businesses, some established, some new, are disrupting the status quo in the sector.

Take Farfetch, which allows shoppers to order from boutiques around the world and then have the products delivered to their door. In this instance, technology has removed language barriers from the shopping experience.  

The challenge of coming up with the ‘next big thing’ in retail is never over. Shoppers today have more choice and autonomy than ever before. This means brand loyalty has to be earned. It cannot be assumed. Digital talent is not therefore a luxury. It is necessary for the survival of all retailers, big and small.

Mike Bracken’s recent move from chief digital officer for Central Government to the Co-operative Group sent shockwaves through the technology sector. Here was one of the most influential digital experts in the country moving to one of the largest retailers in the UK. Never before has there been a clearer message to the industry – a successful growth and sales strategy needs to revolve around a deep understanding of digital.

As we move into an era when every company behaves and operates as a technology business, retailers need to invest in digital talent to remain competitive. This is not just about tech-savvy board members or indeed coders and developers, but marketers, product managers and designers that understand the unique requirements of the digital market.

Retail has a crucial role to play in helping to sustain the momentum behind the technology sector, which today is the fastest growing sector in our economy. Innovation and creativity are the buzzwords that are becoming the definition of success in retail. Retaining and nurturing digital talent is the only way retailers can hope to thrive in the continually shifting retail landscape of the 21st Century.

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