IT in Retail: Graduate Area of Work

IT is crucial in helping retailers share information between its functions and in integrating the business to serve their customers better.
The gradsingapore Team
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Nearly every function in the retail industry – e.g. the sourcing of new products, management of distribution networks, in-store point-of-sale systems, and administration responsibilities (such as HR and finance) – requires the involvement of IT and technology to a degree.

In most cases, IT is used to achieve a couple of objectives: to improve the accuracy and availability of information on every level, and to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the business. However, the emergence of online retailers have brought the use of IT in retail to a whole new level.

Most retailers, especially international ones, have their own in-house IT team/department to cater to their key IT needs and projects.

However, complex projects that require more advanced or specialist skills will usually be outsourced to third-party IT services providers, with the internal IT team coordinating and assisting as and when needed (e.g. identifying the services needed, initiating interaction with the service providers, and integrating the new software with existing systems).

Although the retail industry in Singapore is still demonstrating positive growth and is considered one of the country’s key services sectors, it is also showing noticeable signs of slowing down with many high-profile retailers slowly pulling out of the country or consolidating their operations within the country.

A number of reasons account for these pull-outs, including high rentals and overhead costs, difficulty in hiring, and falling consumer sentiment.

General overview

As an IT personnel in the retail industry, you may find yourself positioned anywhere along the chain of business to help improve the flow of information and to integrate the different functions within the business, although responsibility-wise, there will be a lot of programming involved regardless of where you are stationed.

Most large retailers offer graduate IT recruitment programmes once every year, which can last from one to two years. During the course of the programme, you will be rotated through several roles and departments to give you a broader view of the business as a whole, as well as to expose you to various programming and business analysis skills before deciding on a permanent role that matches your skills.

Once you’ve settled into a permanent role, you’ll work with teams – usually multidisciplinary – on projects to troubleshoot and maintain the servers and networks used within the organisation. Career progression might take some time as you’ll need to gain quite a bit of experience before you get promoted to senior programmer or analyst.

However, if you prefer a more people-oriented role, you can also consider taking up management opportunities instead.

Take note of some of the emerging trends and technologies that are changing or influencing the direction of the industry as well. For instance, RFID (radio frequency ID) is a growing topic of interest as some retailers have been using the system to help track their products through the supply chain.

The use of information gathering/data-mining also sparks discussion as retailers try to learn more about their consumers’ buying preferences.

Within Singapore, it is also important to keep an eye on the latest challenges facing the employers, such as new competitors or changing market conditions. The growing e-commerce industry in the country continues to be a part of the discussion, and trends like pop-up stores or cost-saving solutions should be noted as well.

Skills

Employers in this industry don’t necessarily hire based on your degree background, even for IT positions, which means that you don’t necessarily have to have a computing, mathematics, or science-related degree if you want to work an IT job in this industry. Of course, having previous experience or IT-related skills will allow you to grasp concepts and specialise in an area faster than your peers, but more important to the employers is your capacity and willingness to learn as you’ll be expected to pick up analytical and programming skills on the job.

Another skill that you should possess if you intend to break into this industry is commercial awareness. An understanding of how the retail business works will make it easier for you to see how your IT skills can add value to existing systems/networks and benefit both your employer and their clients. Teamwork and good communication skills are also valuable abilities, as is an analytical mind and the ability to adapt to a constantly-changing environment. 

Pros and cons

Programmers working in this industry often tout the variety in their work as one of the pros of their job because they can move between different functional areas relatively easily. This also means getting exposed to different experiences, roles, and skills – as well as plenty of chances to network with different groups of people. The rapid changes in the retail environment also makes work exciting – you’ll have to be able to adapt and react according to new business demands quickly.

That said, one grouse that programmers working in this industry have is the slower career progression compared to other industries, although that may be eclipsed by your desire to make a difference in the retail industry.