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Comment: Why STEM roles are right for retail

Lee Lucas

Lee Lucas, principal of the Fashion Retail Academy, explains why retail leaders of the future will need to blend creativity with tech know-how.

As a retail-focused academic institute, we have a bird’s eye view of hiring trends in the fashion industry. Over the past few years, we have seen more and more employers opt for employees who offer both technical and artistic skills, rather than those with purely creative qualifications.

Of course, this shift mirrors the way that the industry is moving. As the number of retail brands continues to multiply and shops have to fight harder – on both physical and online fronts – to win customers, the kind of people that retailers are looking to hire has changed, too.

On a very basic level, this is a result of the increasing significance of online retailing and globalisation combined with omni-channel retailing. It’s no longer enough to simply create a website with a checkout function – customers want a much more refined digital shopping experience.

Consumers often have conflicting expectations: they want a tailored shopping journey, but don’t like the idea of being bombarded with bespoke information as soon as they load up the webpage; they enjoy the convenience and value of online, but still like the tangibility of heading in-store; they want etailers to pre-emptively know their size and fit requirements, but balk at the idea of companies intrusively hoarding personal data.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) roles are gaining more of a seat at the table as the retail sector struggles to counter threats to the high street and move further into the digital arena. The boom in ecommerce has put more pressure on physical-first brands to incentivise consumers to visit the high street.

The way that these retailers are leading the fight back is through harnessing the power of technology and analytics to give customers a better experience in store. With beacon technology, stores are able to ping customers walking through their doors with messages about where to find items they’ve expressed an interest in online, or offer web-only discounts for products they are currently browsing in the shop.

The popularity of tech-enabled marketing tools such as these means that retailers have widened their nets not only to data-savvy marketers but also to developers with bigger ideas about how to shake up the status quo in retail. Academic institutions such as our own are already acknowledging this shift with the introduction of courses such as a BSc in Data Analytics for Retail, which will become available next year.

All of this is not to say that intelligent and creative store layouts, cutting-edge fashion design and product ranges that appeal to their target audience aren’t vitally important, too.

It’s just that the most innovative and future-gazing retail brands are now looking for recruits and graduates that aren’t simply siloed into the arts or sciences. The retail leaders of tomorrow will have their feet firmly planted in both camps.

 

Lee Lucas is principal of the Fashion Retail Academy in London, which provides vocational training for the industry, from short courses to degrees.

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