No jobs? Not when it comes to online retailing

September 7, 2011 03:12 PM

Staples Inc. plans to place a large bet that online retail will produce even bigger returns in the future.

The office supplies retailer, which had $10.2 billion in online sales in 2010, aims to triple the size of its e-commerce and information technology staffs for within the next two years, Brian Tilzer, the company’s vice president of e-commerce and business development, tells Internet Retailer.  “E-commerce is, and has been, big for us and we are accelerating our efforts even with the big base we have,” he says. “We’re looking to invest as big and broadly as anyone.”

Staples is No. 2 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.



To appeal to potential employees, Staples is highlighting its large size, which affords staff with a slew of opportunities to advance within the organization, says Tilzer. And because the retailer has pockets large enough to invest heavily in technology, employees can use those opportunities to expand their skills. “We give employees the opportunity to develop and evolve over time,” he says.

For instance, when the retailer decided to develop its mobile commerce site, which launched in June, it first reached out to current employees to see who would like to work in the rapidly growing mobile channel. “The pace of change has never been faster,” he says. “We have a constant, accelerating stream of projects as we move into new areas.”

But despite a 9.1% national unemployment rate, finding talent to fill its newly created positions may not be easy because e-commerce represents an anomaly amid the economic woes; the U.S. Commerce Department, for instance, reports that U.S. e-commerce sales increased 15% in 2010. Amid such relative prosperity, Staples faces stiff competition for experienced employees from other retailers and also consumer goods manufacturers, Tilzer says. “There are a finite number of resources in the market,” he says.

That may help explain why Staples had 19,551 job openings in August (a Staples spokesman declines to detail how many of those positions are e-commerce-related), according to SimplyHired’s “U.S. Employment Outlook: September 2011,” which aggregates listings from 30,000 employment web sites. That’s up 51.6% from the number of openings the retailer had in August 2010. Of those openings, 1,057 are in Boston, which is about 20 miles from the retailer’s Framingham, MA, headquarters.

Staples isn’t alone. Retailers of all sizes are scrambling to replace skilled personnel and to find the new hires they need to expand. And that competition is driving up the cost of e-commerce talent. For instance, starting salaries for search engine optimization specialists have increased nearly 18% year over year, according to Crandall Associates Inc.’s 2011 edition of its annual “Online Marketing Salary Guide.”

“Across all levels there’s competition,” says Gene Manheim, who leads the e-commerce practice at executive search firm Herbert Mines Associates. “There is a shortage of talent because new companies are being created and existing pure-play and bricks-and-mortar are growing, so demand outstrips supply.”

To attract talent, Staples has invested heavily in recruitment, says Erica Rockenback, the retail chain’s director of talent acquisition. Rockenback’s recruiters search for talent both face-to-face and online via LinkedIn and user groups. The retailer also plans to launch the Staples Talent Community in the next few months. The community, which will be housed on, will enable prospective employees to express their curiosity about possible jobs at Staples without actually applying for a job, instead just providing some contact information.

“They won’t have to apply fully,” she says. “It will provide a way to say, ‘I’m curious about the company, ping me if you have something.’” The community hopes to attract a broader range of talent than just those frustrated employees eager to leave their current positions, she says.

To ensure Staples continues to draw new entry-level employees, the office supplies retailer is increasing its focus on on-campus recruiting. As part of that move it will increase its number of interns. “We want to continue to fill our pipeline,” says Rockenback.




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