Digital retail and globalisation have had an enormous impact on the retail market in Belgium. To address these changes, retailers are increasingly recruiting candidates who can work across cultures and know how to combine online business with traditional business models. These are the main conclusions of Global Retail Study by Michael Page.

De Meir in Antwerp is one of the first shopping streets in Belgium where retailers combine their physical shops with smart online technology. The clothing shop McCregor offers, for example, an interactive fitting room, where you can get online information about the clothes you would like to purchase: are they available in different colours? Which combinations does the shop recommend? Any practical question customers might have, they can find on the touchscreens in the fitting rooms.

If it were up to Digitopia, the company that develops the technology, it wouldn’t stop there. It’s just the first step towards complete integration of online with the offline shopping experience. Think, for instance, of personalised messages to customers while they are shopping that can anticipate their needs. The latest offers on umbrellas when it’s raining. Or even a recommendation for a good coffee place to wait while the weather clears up. 

Huge impact on candidate profiles

“Retailers in Belgium are all trying to find the right balance between ecommerce and traditional shopping”, explains Minh Truong, Manager of Sales & Marketing at Michael Page. “This also has a huge impact on the kind of candidates they are looking for. Candidates with digital experience are in high demand. Think for instance of User Experience Managers, Ecommerce Managers and people with IT experience in general. Marketing talents between 25 and 35 years of age generally lead the way in digital in this new revolution in marketing. Online retail is becoming the center of the marketing strategy and it’s that demographic that knows how to   combine the digital and the physical consumer experience.”

Candidates difficult to find

But these candidates are not easy to find in Belgium, says Minh Truong. “That has partly to do with the education program, which in Belgium is still quite traditional compared to other countries. At arts schools, for example, digital design is still optional, instead of obligatory. In the UK it’s the opposite. In London you have a number state-of-the-art schools, where students learn how to work in a digital environment. That’s one of the reasons why the retail industry in England is way ahead when it comes to combining online with traditional business. If the retail industry in Belgium want to keep up with the competition, it’s important it starts collaborating with universities to train the skills they are looking for.”

But there are more reasons why candidates in Belgium are not lining up to work in the retail industry. The image of the retail industry is not as cool as it is, for example, in France. “We don´t have a tradition in fashion like the French have”, says Minh Truong. “Belgium is more conservative in that respect. In France and England people really live for fashion. That’s not the case here. You really need to convince potential candidates to start out as a store manager, for example.”

Community Management

It’s one of the biggest mistake that French retail multinationals make when they move their business to Belgium, says Minh Truong. “Companies think that it will be easy to expand to Belgium, because people speak the same language. They overlook the cultural gap. To find good candidates, you cannot rely only on your brand name. If you want to find the right talent, I would advise organising free trainings, so they can get to know the business. On top of that you´ll need to look for candidates who can work across the different language communities we have in Belgium. To be successful in the Belgian market, community management is extremely important. Multinationals will have to collaborate with partners in the different cities, who can serve as their brand ambassadors. Only with a local touch will you be able to reach the talented candidates you´ll need to succeed.”

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