Online shopping boom exposes lack of top talent
As online shopping becomes increasingly favoured by consumers, Asia, and in particular the mainland, is being tipped to dominate the e-commerce industry.
In Asia, online commerce has increased by almost 140 per cent annually over the past three years, according to Bank J Safra Sarasin’s latest Equity Research Focus. The report from the Swiss private bank also forecasts that Asia-Pacific will account for 23 per cent of online sales in 2020, up from 3.8 per cent in 2012. This compares with an estimated global increase in online sales as a percentage of total retail sales from 4 per cent in 2012 to 16 per cent in 2020.
US online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter recently introduced an e-commerce site in Chinese, as a result of more than one-third of its customer base coming from Asia. Closer to home, Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford also recently joined the ranks of global retailers that have launched online stores aimed at the mainland market.
Last year, a MasterCard study found that 58 per cent of Hong Kongers shop online, with 62 per cent of women making online purchases compared with 54 per cent of men.
Howard Chan, director of retail, sales and marketing, procurement, and supply chain at Michael Page, has also observed how Hong Kong retail enterprises are increasingly exploring ways to offer online purchase options.
“Retailers know this is the way to go and they are trying to find more creative ways to market their products to engage and retain consumers,” Chan says.
One of the biggest challenges retailers face in doing this, Chan adds, is finding people with a combination of technical and marketing abilities.
“What we tend to see at the moment is programmers and designers who are very technical and marketers who are very traditional,” Chan says, adding that this can lead to business objectives becoming disconnected. This is amplified because the audience that retailers are trying to reach is tech-savvy and aware of the latest available products.
Chan says organisations are looking for individuals who understand the technical aspects of multi-channel marketing and advertising, are sensitive to market trends and changes, and can engage with consumers to generate loyalty with the online community. “The talent that companies are looking for is extremely hard to find,” Chan says.
Chan believes as product life cycles become shorter and Generation Y consumers prioritise online shopping, there will be an even bigger demand for e-retailing skills. This will include talent that can make the consumer experience effective and timely, but also personal, lively and exciting. “There is so much going on, retailers feel that they need to do something, but often they are not sure how to they should go about it,” Chan says.
According to Baniel Cheung, an online marketing specialist and lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Business, the online retail sector is a magnet for marketing professionals looking for a change in career, as well as a new generation of design, programming, engineering and technical talent.
“There are great opportunities for the younger generation because they use the technology and can relate to the changing trends,” Cheung says. He believes the correlation across e-sectors, including social media and company websites, is opening up career opportunities for app designers, writers and others who can monitor and react to online consumer conversations.
Cedric Delzenne is the founder of online fashion retailer Shop des Createurs. He says that one of the biggest challenges of running an online business in Asia is market fragmentation.
“Nowhere in the world can you find such diverse cultures and customer trends, tastes and diversity in terms of payment and delivery options,” Delzenne says.
When recruiting, Delzenne he says he looks for individuals that show a passion and flare for fashion, as well as the ability to master new tools quickly and spot emerging consumer trends. Employees must also have the ability to form partnerships with designers, artists, upscale venues and the media.
“Importantly, candidates must have a good sense of humour,” he says. “We spend half of our life at work, so we should try to make it fun.”
The growth of social media and online retailing is also providing Groupon, a firm that connects merchants to consumers by offering goods and services at a discount, with new opportunities. Sophia Lai, head of marketing at Groupon Hong Kong, says that the company’s staff are able to integrate traditional and social media platforms into marketing campaigns.
“Our team is also involved in new tools development to help merchants achieve their marketing goals,” Lai says. “We look for people who have a great sense of digital business and understand mobile applications, especially how consumers want to use them,” he says.