Evolution of Skills in the Retail Sector: A 40-Year Retrospective

The retail industry has undergone significant transformation over the past four decades. This evolution has been largely driven by rapid technological advancements, shifting consumer behaviour’s, and the globalisation of markets. As a result, the skill set required for retail workers has also changed dramatically. So what are these changes? Which new skills have emerged? What technologies have reshaped the industry and which skills that have become less relevant?

Technological Advancements and New Skills

  1. Point of Sale (POS) Systems
    • 1980s-1990s The introduction of electronic POS systems replaced manual cash registers, requiring retail employees to develop basic digital literacy and data entry skills.
    • Today Modern POS systems integrate with inventory management and customer relationship management software, requiring workers to possess advanced technical skills and an understanding of complex software ecosystems.
  2. Online Retailing
    • Late 1990s-2000s The emergence of e-commerce platforms like Amazon and eBay necessitated skills in online inventory management, digital marketing, and basic web maintenance.
    • Today Skills in SEO, data analytics, and digital customer service are crucial as e-commerce becomes a dominant sales channel.
  3. Mobile Technology
    • 2010s-Onwards The rise of smartphones has led to the proliferation of mobile shopping apps and mobile payments. Retail workers now need to be adept at managing mobile POS systems, mobile marketing, and providing customer service through apps and social media platforms.
  4. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
    • Recent Developments AI in retail is used for personalizing shopping experiences, managing supply chains, and predicting trends. Employees must understand the basics of AI functionality and data interpretation to leverage these technologies effectively.

Skills That Have Declined in Necessity

Past – Previously, employees spent considerable time manually checking and recording inventory.

Today – Automated inventory systems have largely eliminated the need for manual stock counts, shifting the focus to system management and monitoring.

Past – Cash handling and manual transaction recording were fundamental cashier skills.

Today – Digital payments and automated POS systems have reduced the need for these skills, with more focus now on customer interaction and salesmanship.

Past –  Retail operations heavily relied on paper for accounting, scheduling, and recording transactions.

Today –  Digital tools have taken over these functions, requiring proficiency in various software rather than manual bookkeeping.

Evolution of Skills in the Retail Sector – What Next?

The retail sector’s rapid evolution demands that workers continuously adapt and upgrade their skills. The transition from manual processes to advanced digital operations reflects broader changes in the workplace, driven by technological progress and shifting market dynamics. For retail workers and managers alike, staying abreast of these changes is crucial for career advancement and operational success.


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