Retailers are prioritising investing in technology over expanding their workforce and recruiting for new skills, according to new research.
The survey of 502 decision makers within the retail sector by Hitachi Capital Consumer Finance found that 36% viewed technology as a key area of investment focus.
By contrast, only 19% cited expanding the workforce and 22% hiring for particular skills.
Some sectors said they were even less focused on recruitment, with the electrical and healthcare sectors giving figures of 15% and 16% respectively. 48% and 25% of respondents in these sectors viewed the changing demands of consumers as presenting the biggest challenge.
There were differences depending on the size of the retailer. 64% of firms with turnover of over £25 million cited new technology as a focus while just 10% of businesses in the £16 to £25 million bracket considered it a priority.
The interest in technology is despite many retailers facing high staff turnover and training costs according to Hitachi. This was particularly true in firms with turnover of between £16 million and £25 million, with 40% saying recruitment and training was their biggest challenge in the next 18 months.
Vincent Reboul, managing director at Hitachi Capital Consumer Finance, said: “There is no doubting that the future of retail is going to be driven by technology. Retail experiences are being transformed by immersive and inventive innovations, while processes such blockchain and AI have the power to change the supply chain and logistics forever.
“However, the industry is only as good as the people within it, so it remains crucial for retailers to get the balance right between technology and human investment.”
“Ever changing consumer demands are forcing the industry to look hard at how they can attract and keep new customers, while still managing their overheads.
“The research shows that, not only are there hugely differing opinions of the appropriate action to take across differing retail sectors, but there are also perhaps some areas where tech versus human investment is out of kilter,” said Reboul.
“Technology is changing the way people are buying products, especially in the millennial category, but you need to have a strategy that caters for both traditional buyers and millennials,” said one Director at a top 10 ecommerce retailer in an interview conducted for the research.
They added: “Broadly, traditional organisations do not have the right tech people on board, and we’ve seen those retailers going through some difficult cycles to implement or pick the right technology for their business.”