How e-commerce firms retain and recruit talent amid high demand

March 29, 2016 01:38 PM

When mobile phone e-retailer Simplexity filed for bankruptcy just weeks after Joel Layton joined the merchant as its senior vice president of digital marketing in early 2014, he didn’t panic about finding another job.

“I’m not one who is going to be sitting around so I went and found my next opportunity,” Layton says. “It took me less than 10 days.”

Experienced e-retail staffers rarely struggle to find a new job. They’re benefiting from a generally high level of hiring in technology fields. In fact, “a record 78% of hiring managers anticipate more hiring in the first half of 2016 compared to the second half of 2015,” according to a survey of 400 hiring managers and staffing companies last fall by technical job site The survey finds that 71% expected to increase their technology staffs by 11% or more in the first half of 2016.

E-commerce is one of the drivers of this demand for technical talent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicts strong growth in certain jobs critical to e-commerce, such as web developers. The number of positions for that job title will grow 27% from 2014 to 2024, compared to the 7% growth rate for all occupations, the agency says, with demand “driven by the growing popularity of mobile devices and e-commerce.”

Online retailers are well aware of the competition for tech workers. They are focusing on both making their current employees happy so that they don’t jump to other jobs, while getting to know people they may want to recruit to fill new positions. And while six-figure salaries are common for senior e-commerce managers, employers and employees say the opportunity to grow and lead is often a more important perk for in-demand technology workers than foosball tables and free pizza.

The demand for people with experience in online retailing is being driven in part by store-based retailers that are increasingly building their e-commerce so they can win a larger share of growing online sales, which reached $341.7 billion in 2015, up 14.6% from $298.3 billion in 2014, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. It was the sixth year in a row that nationwide online sales have grown at or near 15%, while store sales growth has been in the low single digits.

As a result, the executives being recruited for e-commerce jobs are taking more senior positions in many retail organizations, says Harry Joiner, a longtime e-commerce recruiter whose candidates tend to earn between $100,000-250,000 per year. “They’re better jobs. They’re better assignments. We’re also seeing candidates get paid richer bonuses where the bonuses are measurable, relevant, objective and controllable.”

Those who are hiring say the hardest-to-fill positions tend to be for technical positions such as developers as well as professionals who specialize in data analytics.

“It’s really hard to find talent,” laments Jeff McRitchie, vice president of marketing at online binding and laminating equipment and materials e-retailer “You’re always trying to figure out what kind of compromises you’re going to make in order to get the right person.”

Recruiters are regularly emailing e-commerce professionals, trying to gauge their interest in new positions, several executives say.

“I’m very lucky and very fortunate at this time in my life that people are coming looking for me,” says Layton, who is currently vice president of digital marketing at apparel retailer Rue21 Inc.

“Poaching has gotten a lot more aggressive,” adds Darren Hill, CEO of e-commerce platform provider WebLinc, which is the site design vendor for ten retailers in the 2015 Internet Retailer Top 1,000, talking about trends he’s seen with his retailer clients. “We’re seeing the e-commerce director that seems like a great fit for everybody get poached by some headhunter.”

Online fashion e-retailer Touch of Modern Inc., No. 473 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, is one company targeting e-commerce professionals who might not be looking for a new job.

“For more senior positions, we do a lot of passive tactical recruiting and a ton of networking internally and externally for referrals,” Touch of Modern co-founder and chief operating officer Jonathan Wu says. “We are strategic in terms of targeting companies that have strong internal operations and talented passive candidates [meaning candidates who are not currently looking for a job] who can add value, expertise and diversity to our organization.”

Search engine marketing firm Elite SEM knows its 150 employees are in demand, and makes a point of publicly celebrating and rewarding employees who recruiters try to lure away. Employees who get a call or email from a recruiter about an open position are encouraged to log it. In return, the employee who logged it first—oftentimes several Elite SEM staffers get contacted about the same job—gets a bottle of wine.

“We probably get over 30 poaches a month across the country,” says CEO Ben Kirshner, but with the wine reward “we’ve taken something uncomfortable—an employee got called by a recruiter—and turn it into a celebration. It says ‘look how well known you are in this space,’ and we celebrate it.”

Kirshner says employees have to keep the bottle—corked or empty, it’s up to the employee—on their desk as a trophy. Whoever has the most bottles at the end of the year, gets a trip to Napa Valley paid for by the company. Such strategies aimed at giving the workplace a positive vibe have helped minimize employee churn. Kirshner says during the 12 years Elite SEM’s been around, just five people have left to work for another search marketing firm.

For more on the battle for e-commerce talent, pick up a copy of the April edition of Internet Retailer magazine.




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