What skills will support the future of the retail industry?

We explore the key skills that may help to future-proof the retail industry.

The COVID-19 outbreak has shaken every industry, and retail has been hit particularly hard. Retailers’ stock was split into 'essential' and 'non-essential' items in the minds of customers seemingly overnight. Followed by a race to conserve cash through furloughing or laying off staff. Or, conversely, with supermarkets such as Tesco fronting a 40,000-person hiring spree.

With projected sales and usual spikes in Easter spending nowhere to be seen, there is currently an estimated £10bn of clothing piled high in warehouses across the UK. Arcadia, Next and Primark have all stopped taking deliveries to their warehouses because they have no more room. Many stores have collapsed or are close to collapse.

Whilst it’s too soon to understand the full implications of COVID-19, we can already identify the talent that’s helped retailers to weather the storm so far. Whether it’s by supporting changes to the supply chain, transitioning to remote working or helping to accommodate an increase in online traffic.

Here we roundup the key skills that could help retailers stay on the front foot.


Retail is one industry that’s had to survive its fair share of challenges. From the 2008 financial crash to the death of the high street, retailers are no strangers to innovation. However, the speed and global scale demanded in response to this global pandemic is entirely new.

Customer behaviour and demands are likely to look very different after the pandemic. So, having talent with an innovative approach will enable you to stay one step ahead. Critical thinkers armed with curiosity will help to unravel existing problems and imagine new ways of working.

Innovation in any industry is an ongoing process that is well supported by Agile methodology. This means delivering change incrementally, and assessing what’s working and what isn’t. Then adjusting the plan as you go. Talent with good knowledge of Agile ways of working are then well-equipped to overhaul the traditional methods that could be holding retailers back from innovating.


Only months ago, leading retailers were in fierce competition. And now, they’re working together. Iceland Managing Director, Richard Walker says, “Retailers who are normally the deadliest of competitors have started talking freely to each other, sharing information and ideas.” But collaboration isn’t only a tool to reach for in times of need – it’s a new way of working.

Innovation in retail is becoming more collaborative by, for example, collecting customer feedback via text message. Chatter Research is an AI-powered customer feedback solution that allows customers to provide feedback and insight via text message. Brands can gather feedback using signage in stores, and customers can use their smartphones to interact with the sign. Then a text message on the consumer’s smartphone will pop up and prompt them with feedback questions.

No one can deliver successful change on their own. And even an excellent idea cannot be executed without a strong team. Talent that take a collaborative approach will be able to communicate their ideas to a range of stakeholders, ensuring the whole team is onboard with transformation projects.

Digital literacy

It’s no surprise that in the past month many retailers have been reliant on digitally literate talent to support customers’ transition from visiting physical stores to virtual platforms.

The pandemic has been a painful wake-up call for many retailers to overhaul their online offering. For example, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Dunelm’s Click and Collect service now has a deliver-to-car option, along with a contactless service that eliminates the need to sign for the order or pass packages hand to hand.

Today’s emerging workforce are digital natives who have always lived in a technology-driven world. Consequently, they have an inherent understanding of technology which allows them to pick up new programmes and systems intuitively. The emerging workforce are then well-equipped to help retailers embed new technologies into their operations.


We know this period of time has been a huge test of resilience for many organisations. The path to successful innovation inevitably has some missteps. Retailers then need talent who can consistently come up with new ideas, as well as bounce back if they aren’t successful on the first try.

Innovation is a learning experience for everyone. So talent that can embrace feeling uncomfortable is essential. Resist fearful thinking to cultivate an environment where it’s okay to fail in order to allow resilient talent to add real value to the team.

Cybersecurity & data privacy

To keep customers spending during this challenging time, retailers are taking away barriers to purchase. Two common ways this is happening is through personalising customers’ shopping experiences and offering a plethora of ways to pay, introducing the likes of Klarna.

But as retailers enter partnerships and use customer data to personalise buying journeys, cyber security and data privacy are a serious risk. With the volume of data that businesses produce, store and use across multiple online platforms, the risk of cyber-attacks is higher than ever.

To protect customer data and their reputation, retailers need talent with hard skills in data analysis to protect their business from security breaches. This involves identifying emerging threat patterns using analytics tools, and providing incident response, along with delivering cyber security awareness training to the wider business.

Of course, it’s too soon to say what direction the retail industry will take post-pandemic. But we can already see that an adaptable workforce that’s confident working in an Agile way to deliver continuous innovation is a strong place to start.

Find out how Grayce Analysts are supporting retailers nationwide

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