It's the End of Retail as We Know it … And You Should Feel Fine
The amount of retail space shuttering in 2018 is on track to surpass the 105 million square feet record set last year, leaving retailers, shopping center owners and store employees shaking in their boots. Don’t hit the panic button just yet, however, because when one store closes, something new opens, bringing with it opportunities for consumers — and for job seekers.
The Marriage of Brick-and-Mortar and the Digital Marketplace
The growth of online retailers has caused a shift in the industry, and for several years has been eating traditional brick-and-mortar retailers’ lunches. Companies like Amazon.com have set the bar for the rest of the industry through services like Prime, giving consumers high expectations on product accessibility and delivery timing. Yet no one wants to be cooped up in their home all day. People crave new experiences, and digital-centric retailers have noticed, with companies like Amazon scooping up Whole Foods and Apple continuing to invest in refreshing its stores. Creating the best retail experience requires online and offline channels to tie the knot.
So take a deep breath and say it with me: “People aren’t going to stop buying things online, but they aren’t going to stop visiting stores either.” There, feel better?
Recently, shopping centers and malls have become inundated with experience-focused storefronts. Take the King of Prussia (KOP) mall for example, the largest shopping mall in the nation when it comes to leasable area (2.9 million square feet). Instead of being crushed by the retail apocalypse, the retail fortress has thrived by re-evaluating its ecosystem and bringing in new offerings like gyms, art studios and even co-working spaces. Traditional retail stores in the mall like Tommy John have even modernized their services, providing an upscale shopping experience that invites customers to have a beer and talk underwear with a consultant. The KOP mall has become an experience destination.
Hunkering Down on Hiring
Unlike what big online retailers want you to think, human connection still plays a critical role in sales success — something web bots just can’t provide (yet). Because of this pivot towards personalized experiences, customers shouldn’t be communicating with a screen in these new retail environments. Retail hiring managers need to prioritize attracting and hiring talent with strong personal skills, and potentially even offer soft skills training to employees to ensure customers have a top-notch experience. Roles for retail staffers will also shift, prioritizing hospitality responsibilities in addition to many common in-store duties, from restocking to merchandise pricing to operating the cash register.
The pivot towards creating an experience-focused storefront means retail recruiters need to reassess hiring needs, redefine the responsibilities employees will need to take on, and even rethink recruiting tactics for short- and long-term success. Brick-and-mortar businesses can take a cue from what the top online retailers are doing to better engage qualified job seekers and hire smarter and faster.
- Adjust your staffing needs and timeline. Just as warehouses will change their needs once automation becomes more prevalent, demands of in-store employees will change with this new focus on experience-based retail. Hiring on a cyclical, “on-demand” basis could become an outdated practice. Be better prepared by forecasting what your staffing needs will look like and adopting a long-term, “plan ahead” hiring approach, especially since the new retail roles will be more customer facing, involved, and potentially full-time opportunities.
- Leverage new recruiting tactics. Job postings are still important, but the way people communicate is changing:
- Retargeting ads: The impact of job postings can be amplified if partnered with retargeting ads. Once a job seeker views a job posting, retargeting will allow advertisements for the posting to pop up on other websites they visit, serving as a reminder to the job seeker to apply for the position. This tactic can help spur curious job seekers into action.
- Texting: Launching text message campaigns to attract applicants cuts through the job market clutter, drastically increasing the chances of an employer’s opportunity being seen by target talent and receiving a response. Texting can also activate job seekers who don’t feel they're ready to apply by inviting them to skip the traditional hiring process and to express interest without a resume.
- Out of home: With malls bringing in new types of businesses (e.g., gyms, movie theaters) and jobs into their spaces, outdoor advertising like billboards could be beneficial to these incoming businesses looking to fill positions in certain areas. Furthermore, there's the added benefit of building brand recognition with people who aren’t job seeking but might buy your product, try your restaurant, join your gym, etc.
- Own the employee brand. Fostering and owning a strong employee brand is the best marketing tool a business can have. Large-scale retailers have strong corporate brand identities, but smaller shops have a chance to be recognized for their work culture and make a name for themselves by owning the employee experience brand. Small retailers might not match the wage offerings of retail titans, yet their flexibility to provide unique benefits (e.g., cool perks, a casual work environment) could be of greater interest to job seekers.
- Stop using the skills gap cop out. Regardless of the minimum skill requirements, consider hiring people for aptitude who don’t meet the requirements. Hiring pros across sectors throw out resumes for people who don’t have the EXACT same experience they're hiring for. Take time to see how an applicant’s skills could be implemented into the role you’re hiring for, and train them for what specifically you need them to do — especially now that soft skills are in high demand.
Even though many people are ringing the alarm bell, don’t cry wolf on the fate of brick-and-mortar stores. Having mall owners rethink their spaces and welcome in new types of business has reinvigorated the shopping centers, making them more of a destination, encouraging guests to not just pop into one store, but to hang out and stay awhile — e.g., eat dinner, see a movie, get a workout, do some shopping — all in one location.
The convenience of it all entices consumers to spend more time in malls and shopping centers, leading them to check out more stores and bringing more foot traffic for sales. Like real estate investment trusts (REITs) with a wide portfolio of malls and department stores that have plotted a new course to weather the storm, brick-and-mortar retailers will be able to survive the retail apocalypse by evolving their in-store business model to stay relevant by rethinking the service and experience you provide to be more hospitality and customer driven. To support this transition in the short and long term, redefine the responsibilities of your staff and change how you engage, attract and retain talent to fit these new roles.
Joe Weinlick is the chief marketing officer at Nexxt, a recruitment media company.
Related story: The Kick in the (Re)Tail Recruiters Need