Retail Technology: a unique culture 


Big Red has many years’ experience in sourcing the right technology people to succeed in the retail environment. Our skill set is in the understanding of the perfect cultural fit, which we have previously written about here. So what is it about in the retail sector, and what are the characteristics of the culture? At the risk of going a bit Liam Neeson, what is the ‘particular set of skills’?

You’d think that a technology team in any large corporate business would have the same priorities, in the main. But retail is different. At Big Red we really understand what a good culture fit for retail looks like, and we are going to let the cat out of the bag. After all, retail means detail.  For our highest calibre candidates, the rewards are huge – strong career progression and room to thrive, a world class reputation, and competitive set of benefits. Here are just a few of the cultural considerations you need to be skilled in for a technology career in retail.

Urgency & pace

Retail businesses have a sense of urgency like no other. Global reach, Consumer driven, hugely competitive, and rapidly changing, this culture runs through every thread of a retail business. It’s obvious when you think about it, that a customer service issue or till-point failure is an urgent firefight for the here and now. However the current of urgency runs deeper than this and is intrinsic to the culture of the business. It can be felt in the psyche of all departments, even those that aren’t on the frontline.

New products are brought to market on a daily basis and are driven by technology, as customers have access to the latest product trends from around the globe in real-time. Often products are perishable and seasonal, or responding to a big name chef’s latest broadcast.  New fashions are brought to market within days rather than in a new season’s collection. These are rapidly shifting sands, with immediate product turnaround to stay at the forefront of the consumer market, and the whole organisation keeps pace.

Accountability & Data

Retailers are being held accountable like never before. If a consumer has a bad experience, this can have a global reach on social media and the impact on the bottom line can be devastating. Unlike an infrastructure, service provider, or support business, everybody has heard of you and reputation is everything. Consumer experience is technology driven, and retail operations need to be increasingly data- led in order to respond to anything, from product provenance (think of Iceland’s recent campaign about the ethics of Palm Oil) to environmental policy on carrier bags and packaging use, to price comparison sites and product range. Data is the king of the competitive edge, and sits firmly in the technology space.

Competing priorities

An IT team within retail has a large range of types of internal customers, and a unique set of competing priorities. Infrastructure technology, ecommerce platforms, HR & Payroll systems, corporate reporting, training platforms, fulfilment and stock control, store technology, purchasing systems, and many other competing priorities bring a unique set of projects and support requirements. It’s worth mentioning the commercial marketplace as a priority here too – the retail sector is incredibly competitive and volatile and getting the balance right within technology and data could be make or break. Whether to invest in keeping the lights on, or in revolutionary public facing technologies in ecommerce, all rely on a world class IT & technology team.

Scale and complexity

Often with thousands of stores, transactions, seasonal staff, and rapid product turnover, the retail IT infrastructure often works on a huge scale. Enterprise scale solutions have to be provided, project managed, implemented and maintained by professionals with expertise in dealing with these silos of data and their associated complexity. Not only do these sheer volumes of staff, products, transactions and processes need to be handled robustly, but also with an ability to adapt to the speed of change that the competitive marketplace demands.

In addition the store/ head office relationship is a culture to be understood, if there is a hierarchy to be considered, the competing demands of internal stakeholders on a project or support desk, how customer experience data is managed, presented and fed back into the process, whether this is handled by CSR or store management, for example.


We will be sharing this article with our retail tech candidates, but please share your thoughts. Are you in retail technology? What else differentiates you from your technology peers in other sectors?