The COVID-19 pandemic hit the retail sector especially hard. In 2020 in the UK, for example, retail sales dropped 1.9% compared to 2019 levels, the largest annual fall on record.
Unfortunately, despite COVID-19 no longer being a global healthcare emergency, the challenges for retail haven’t stopped.
While high turnover has long been a feature of the retail sector, organizations are now facing severe talent shortages.
Employees are re-evaluating what they want out of their working lives – and this has meant the quit rate for retail workers is much higher than the average (in the US, it was double, according to McKinsey).
“The challenge has been to make retail an attractive place to have a career”, Adam Reynolds, head of talent at Frasers Group, tells UNLEASH.
Owned by British retail mogul Mike Ashley, Frasers Group employs more than 30,000 people across its global portfolio of brands that includes Flannels, Sports Direct, House of Fraser, Jack Wills, Slazenger and Lillywhites.
Reynolds adds that the tackling this “net migration out of the retail world” requires high volume hiring at speed.
“The pace you move is mission critical…You will live or die by the speed you’re able to get out to the marketplace”.
Frasers Group, SmartRecruiters and hiring at speed
Unfortunately, Frasers Group’s existing applicant tracking system (ATS) hiring technology was no longer fit for purpose for hiring at speed.
It had been implemented in 2005; Reynolds shares that the tool “gave us a nice advertising portal…But it did little extra on top of that”.
So, when Reynolds joined the business in 2020, he go to work on finding a new future-proof ATS “focused on pace and allowed us to act with urgency”.
After lots of discussion, Frasers Groups ended up with a shortlist of three or four tools, but the retail giant eventually chose SmartRecruiters.
While pace was top of mind in the ATS choice, it wasn’t the only factor.
Frasers Group also prioritized user experience, and being able to have bespoke elements that met the specific needs of this global business (catering to multiple languages and different ways of working).
Ultimately, SmartRecruiters was chosen because it was a “system that we felt was malleable, but it was also simple enough. It was a balancing act between finding a system that can be elegant and bespoke, and with a super simple user interface”.
“For me, it was an easy decision”, particularly because of the great user experience for HR teams, hiring managers and candidates alike.
For HR, SmartRecruiters provided “one version of the truth”, for hiring managers (many of whom are frontline, store-based), the focus was on making their “workload as low as possible” and removing most of the administrative burden.
Candidates are the most important stakeholder for Reynolds.
While HR or store-based colleagues may use the ATS thousands of times, a candidate…should only use it once, and then go to have a long career within the business” – so it needs to pain-free.
“We don’t get many complaints about the system, and we’re going into our third year of using it,” adds Reynolds.
The proof is in the results
Clearly SmartRecruiters met Frasers Group’s needs on ease of use, but what about pace and volume of hiring?
Reynolds shares that the old ATS did not really have the capacity to measure things like time to hire – but his best guess was the average time to hire was around 25 days.
The retail giant launched the new SmartRecruiters ATS in June 2021, and it managed to hire 14,000 people before December (including 60% (9,000) over that very challenging 2021 Christmas period, which was rocked by a surge of cases linked with the new Omicron COVID-19 variant).
Reynolds shared that the average time to hire that first year was 23 days – “it was a bit slower than we would have liked” – but the team “took a lot of learnings from that first year” and started using the SmartRecruiters platform differently.
In 2022, year two, “we hired 25,000 people”, and drove down time to hire significantly, to 13 days. This included 22,000 individuals hired at the store level, and 10,000 over the Christmas period.
“We used automation and logic built into the system” to drive this significant hiring success.
This success hasn’t just been linked with speed, but also quality of hire.
“We are focused on bringing the right people in, and supporting people with their own personal goals”, notes Reynolds. “We can offer people careers and stability with a far-sighted lens, which can be difficult for retail businesses.”
Smart Recruiters’ focus on candidate experience is key here – it “ultimately drives engagement and keeps the best candidates active in the process”.
While there were some bumps along the way – “there were things the system couldn’t do off the shelf”.
However, Reynolds was impressed by the SmartRecruiters’ work to support Frasers Group with third party tools at no extra cost.
One example was Experian and it’s right to work tool.
Reynolds shares: “We were the first business to go live with the Experian tool.
“We had a team of people from SmartRecruiters working alongside us to implement the system.
“This tool is now a cornerstone of our recruitment process; it’s critical to our HR processes”.
The future of hiring at Frasers Group
Despite the hiring success, Frasers Group is not resting on its laurels.
It is continuing to switch up how it thinks about talent acquisition, and really leaning into the passive candidate market – for Reynolds, “that’s where the opportunity lies in the future”.
“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that people will do the talking with their feet, they will move when they’re ready and they will move to a business that means something to them,” continues Reynolds.
Therefore, employers need to take the time and focus on “engaging and nurturing talent that’s not yet in your business”.
Reynolds adds: “We want [to have] communities of people in different areas where we have stores, offices, warehouses etc, that we can activate and engage with.”
And when they’re ready for a new job, they’ll come to us.
“That’s the holy grail; I would like to get to a place where I don’t ever have to publish a job ad”, and instead get to a place where jobs are posted to communities of pre-engaged talent.
In many respects, recruiting has a lot to learn from customer experience – building communities is all about finding brand advocates.
Tech, including AI, will play a crucial role in the future of recruiting.
But Reynolds is clear that AI and automation will simply drive efficiencies and “remove some of the heavy lifting”.
For instance, SmartRecruiters is investing in new AI copilot tech, and is working on some so-called SmartBots, that will automate administrative tasks for recruiters.
At the end of the day, AI won’t replace people, “the human impact is absolutely critical” in recruitment.
Talent acquisition at UNLEASH World
At UNLEASH World 2023, we have a whole stage dedicated to recruiting!
It’s not too late to grab your ticket and join us in Paris to here all about best practices in hiring from HR leaders from Siemens, AstraZeneca, Emirates, Canva, L’Oreal and many, many more.
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