Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

Retail surge pushing price tags up for top staff

As the retail industry in Asia continues to grow in many directions, companies are struggling to recruit top talent to keep up with the momentum. According to a recent report from executive search firm CTPartners, changes in China’s retail industry in particular are creating demand for leadership talent that understands the developing market and can offer new skill sets. 

“Through the impact of social media and e-commerce, retailers are looking for executives with a wider toolbox of abilities that includes both brand and consumer-marketing skills,” says Tim Boerkoel, New York-based global head of the Consumer and Retail Practice at CTPartners.

According to the latest global estimates by market research company eMarketer, China is the primary driver of growth in the region and will surpass Japan as the world’s second-largest business-to-consumer e-commerce market this year. It will make up an estimated 14 per cent of the global share in 2013 with sales reaching US$182 billion, up 65 per cent from US$110 billion in 2012.

Boerkoel says that to meet their management-recruitment objectives, companies are looking at sectors outside the retail industry and are offering attractive remuneration packages.

“A shortage of the right candidates is certainly putting upward pressure on the salaries being offered,” he says, adding that up to 20 per cent is being offered above the industry average in some cases.

In addition to the impact digital marketing and social media are having on the retail industry, there is a need to control costs while engaging with customers thorough new channels. Boerkoel says that Western-style luxury brands are looking for candidates with international experience and a global view of the retail industry, but who also have a clear insight into the mainland market. “People with this knowledge and leadership skills are in very short supply,” he says.

According to the CTPartners report, retail companies are also looking for keen financial acumen, digital aptitude, Asia-Pacific multi-market expertise, the ability to lead through transformative change, supply-chain management know-how, and the ability to be a good brand ambassador.

Emphasising the recruitment challenges facing retail companies, Sarah Lim, a London-based partner in CTPartners’ Retail and Consumer Practice, says the sector has various unique requirements.

“The industry is very fast-moving, multi-layered and dynamic,” she says. “Companies need people that can hit the ground running and understand the markets, which means recruiting talent from the retail industry where possible.”

Thomson Cheng, managing director of retail, brand management and distribution enterprise ImagineX Group, expects demand for talent in the mainland retail sector to remain high for the next three or four years.

“Although the growth of the Chinese luxury market slowed slightly during the last year, and could give the sector some breathing space to consolidate training and retention strategies, demand for experienced talent and new entrants that can be nurtured will remain high,” he says.

Martin Cerullo, managing director at Alexander Mann Solutions, says that for a booming sector such as retail, the lack of availability of leadership talent can only be addressed by attracting leaders from different sectors.

“From my experience, the hospitality sector has often been a successful hunting ground for retail talent,” he says, as the two sectors often share similar customer-focused objectives. “Retail success is driven from anticipating the needs of a consumer.”

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Caroline Mak, chairman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, says efforts are being made to support career development and boost professional recognition in the retail sector. Similar to other sectors such as hairdressing and the watch and clock industry, the retail industry is planning to introduce a Qualification Framework (QF) early next year to support career development and boost professional recognition.

“The seven-level QF hierarchy is designed to enhance the overall quality in the industry through developing and recognising core competences,” she says. Now core competencies have been identified by industry practitioners, a curriculum is being developed with universities, colleges and vocational institutions.

“The QF framework offers an interconnected practical approach to improve quality in the industry and provide practitioners with a clear and quantifiable career path,” Mak adds. New joiners, for example, can start as a cashier and move up the career ladder by completing a step-by-step programme, while experienced practitioners will be able to verify their competences through an accreditation system.