We’re about to have our first COVID holiday season and hopefully our last. This year the impact of the pandemic on retail has been pronounced. We’ve seen a shift away from physical in-store shopping towards online purchases, with ecommerce experiencing a $4 billion boom as many stay at home. This trend is likely to continue throughout the holiday season as shoppers remain cautious.

In order to thrive this season, retailers will have to alter their approach from previous years to adequately meet the shifts in consumer behaviour. One of the major areas upended by these shifts will be hiring. 

Know what you’re looking for

Retailers will need to consider what their specific customer demands are likely to be. For example, the pivot from in-store to ecommerce will mean retailers are likely to need talent in fulfilment, logistics and contact centres. This is talent that will help support a healthy ecommerce operation.

Luckily for retailers, many of the attributes that make a star in-store worker, such as good interpersonal skills, a problem solving approach and dependability can be applied to these new roles. 

Additionally, for larger retailers, it’s likely they will need to hire high volumes in a relatively short period of time, which in itself poses a challenge as hiring managers will potentially have to identify and then assess the skills of thousands of candidates.

The solution, for hiring relatively new positions en masse, is technology that can automate parts of the process. For example, the use of video interviews and online assessments can be used to seamlessly screen talent and narrow down the selection process. In a COVID environment, this also helps to cut down on non-essential in-person meetings.

Meet candidates where they are 

After knowing who you want, you need to work to woo them, especially if the majority of the hiring journey is being conducted online and in a short period of time where it can be harder to form strong relationships.

Employers need to be as approachable and accessible as possible — therefore, retailers should offer a personalised and user-centred experience. This can be achieved by interacting with and sourcing potential candidates in the channels where they are most likely to be, whether that’s via SMS, WhatsApp or LinkedIn. Making full use of these channels, adapting where necessary and using a human-tone can ensure candidates find it easy and even enjoyable to apply for roles.

Make the interview process enjoyable 

As a retailer, with a brand to protect, you also want to deliver an interview process that is enjoyable. This means one that is hassle free and not too long winded. Treat candidates as you would your own customers. Remember, even if they don’t land the job, they’ll most likely still be purchasing from your store, so leave them with a great impression.

Improving interview-to-offer times is a critical factor in talent acquisition, no-one likes to feel as though they’re being strung along. Here technology can help. For example, the flexibility of video interviews or games based assessments offers candidates the ability to interview anytime, anywhere. This approach also helps to cut down hours for retail managers who can instead invest their time into more valuable activities, rather than scheduling and attending interviews. 

We’ve found that prospective employees are open to this approach, therefore it’s definitely one to consider during the holiday season. Over the past year, we’ve seen globally, virtual interview volumes amongst HireVue’s retail clients increase by 50 per cent from January to September from the prior year. 

Also, we’re seeing a huge increase in on-demand video interviews being complete during weekends rising levels of chat based candidate engagement. These factors both show that candidates appreciate a flexible and personalised experience through the hiring phase.  

Play the long game

The retail industry has shifted dramatically in the COVID-19 era and it’s likely that these changes will stick around long after the pandemic is (hopefully) over. As a result, pivoting to focus more heavily on ecommerce is a sensible bet. 

Therefore the altered approach to recruitment should also form a long term shift in retailer behaviour. 

Looking to the future, the best thing retailers can do is hire candidates that have the skills to thrive in a variety of environments. Soft and hard skills that can be transferred between both fulfilment centres and in-store positions will be very valuable. Just because they’re seasonal hires doesn’t have to mean they’ll be temporary.

Tom Cornell is head of assessments for Asia Pacific at HireVue