How is retail changing and how can candidates capitalise?

LBS Career Centre’s Alyona Segline reflects on how changes in the retail and FMCG sectors translate into opportunities for job-seekers


Like many sectors, retail has been hugely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: factory closures and broken supply chains have had a significant impact on manufacturers’ ability to get hold of components and retailers’ ability to secure finished products. Such challenges have underscored the world’s dependence on China – currently responsible for one-third of global manufacturing – and highlighted the need for greater diversification. In response, Japan has already committed to spending upward of $2 billion to help Japanese multinationals shift their manufacturing operations out of China.

One of the most profound behavioural changes has been the shift to digital. As of 2019, 13% of goods were bought online globally, up from 6% in 2014, according to Euromonitor International. The pandemic has accelerated e-commerce adoption, particularly with online groceries. Getting hold of groceries without stepping into a physical store is crucial for today’s homebound consumers, and while demand will drop after lockdowns are lifted, many consumers will permanently shift to e-commerce, following in the footsteps of South Korea after the 2015 MERS outbreak.

“To navigate the new world, FMCG and retail companies must become instinctive enterprises – individuals who can interpret and analyse data will thrive”

Online behemoths Amazon and Alibaba controlled one-third of the e-commerce market globally in 2019, and store closures extended their dominance, with The Guardian reporting that the Jeff Bezos-owned behemoth looks set to report sales topping $100bn last quarter. These titans will emerge from the pandemic even stronger, permanently reshaping the retail landscape and driving a winner-takes-all race that was already in motion.

For retail, technology remains front and centre. The trajectory of technologies like cloud computing will accelerate, and robotics will continue to see exponential growth. Chinese delivery app Meituan Dianping began using autonomous vehicles to deliver grocery orders to customers in Beijing in February 2020, while IKEA recently acquired an augmented reality startup that enables consumers to visualise new home furnishings in their living spaces from the comfort of their homes.

Which trends should job-seekers be aware of?

FMCG and retail roles most in demand include demand planners and merchandisers, supply chain and operations managers, business development managers, global e-commerce managers, insights analysts, data integration and transformation specialists and social media and influencer managers. These roles reflect sector-specific trends and new emerging business models: it’s no surprise that e-commerce means FMCG and retail companies are increasingly reliant on data and digital technologies to tailor experiences, services, products, and promotions to individuals, and are shifting away from maximising supply chains to personalising demand chains.

But there’s also an increased focus on ethical impact; in a world where consumers demand an ethics-driven approach from brands, consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers will encourage healthier choices and support shared values across supply chains, shifting from growth at any cost to inclusive prosperity.

At the same time, sanitary restrictions and concerns remain a challenge. As consumers work from home more and dine out less, they’ll continue to eat more at home, which then impacts the demand for convenient, healthy and affordable price options. Demand for categories such as healthy food, treats, ready-to-cook, ready meals and home-cooking ingredients will remain high: chilled pastry sales in the UK are at +31.1% value sales.

“Digital know-how and a desire to learn and operate within the expanding AI environment will definitely attract recruiters’ attention”

To navigate the new world, FMCG and retail companies must become instinctive enterprises – next-generation businesses that connect, predict, and adapt at speed, placing data at their core and embedding AI throughout to predict future customer needs and ensure robust supply chains. Those who can interpret and analyse data will thrive.

  1. Digital know-how
    A desire to learn and operate within the expanding AI environment will definitely attract recruiters’ attention.

  1. Sustainability experience
    With huge investment required to make companies more sustainable, candidates trained in sustainability and finances will be highly valued.

  1. Different languages
    Linguistically, European languages are always a plus but depending on the role and company’s area of operation, less common language skills will really make a candidate stand out.


LinkedIn, Hiring trends by industry, UK data July-Sept 2020

Business Insider, 21 high-paying careers for people who want to save the planet — and also have job security – 14 August 2019