The launch of a new, collaborative initiative called SaveTheHighStreet.org is the latest attempt to address the woes of Britain’s retail sector.

Retailers' brands must appeal to potential new employees in the same way as to customers

Oxford Street shoppers

Retailers’ brands must appeal to potential new employees in the same way as to customers

This came hot on the heels of BRC figures which showed that the storming dominance of ecommerce continues – non-food online sales were up 11.2 per cent in July from the previous month.

The aim of SaveTheHighStreet.org is to empower shopkeepers with the technology skills and tools they need to adapt to the online revolution in retail sales.

Yet, as this new organisation starts to offer advice on digital transformation, there is one piece of the puzzle that retailers cannot afford to miss: employer branding.

Attracting business

The digital transformation that retailers so urgently need will ultimately depend on their ability to attract the best and brightest digital professionals.

“Today’s job seekers are information-rich, and have access to an incredible amount of material that informs their opinion of an employer brand”

For this reason, the reputational damage that goes along with headlines about the decline of the traditional retail business model is particularly worrying. It has an impact not only on potential customers, but also on a more elusive group – talented digital professionals.

With the well-publicised shortage of digital skills – not just in the UK but around the world – candidates for digital jobs are behaving increasingly like fussy consumers.

The Tate Modern shop

The Tate Modern shop, Bankside, London

The new Tate Modern shop taps into the start-up tone, building the brand’s presence and attracting a different type of customer.

Today’s job seekers are information-rich, and have access to an incredible amount of material that informs their opinion of an employer brand. Many have set their sights high, on digital trendsetters from Apple to Amazon.

More traditional retailers, known primarily for a bricks-and-mortar model, do not top the list of desirable workplaces for professionals looking to be involved in exciting digital development.

Working hard to keep on track

Successfully competing in the digital environment requires access to the best digital minds, but retailers have work to do when it comes to attracting these individuals.

Increasingly, retailers need to approach employer branding with a similar mindset to their consumer branding.

Working to understand the perception of a brand should involve listening to candidates just as retailers would listen to consumers.

Identifying the channels on which prime candidates are active, working to build relationships through these, and filling in the gaps in candidates’ knowledge of a brand are all transferable concepts that retailers can apply to their employer branding.

This education piece is particularly important for older retailers – those companies who have a long-established reputation for traditional ways of doing business can find their innovative efforts in the digital arena are obscured.

Communicating their exciting projects, their readiness for technological disruption, and their openness to agile, collaborative working cultures is essential.

“Working to understand the perception of a brand should involve listening to candidates just as retailers would listen to consumers”

The attraction of the ‘start-up’ working culture centres around the digital potential of a company and each team members’ capacity to influence it. Retailers are in a strong position to build an employer brand around these issues.

Taking stock of perceptions among potential employees is ideally an ongoing process, but at this juncture, high street retailers are in real need of new strategies to boost their digital brand.

Efforts to ‘save the high street’ must face up to the power of reputation if retailers are to attract and retain the best digital talent.

  • James Parsons is founder and chief executive of Arrows Group