The Future of E-commerce Lies in Talent Development and Smart Data

If we look back over the past several years, it is easy to track how far e-commerce has come within a short period of time. Just look at figures. The e-commerce market in the United States is expected to hit more than $485 billion in 2021. Statistics also show that 40% of worldwide internet users have bought products online. That’s more than 1 billion online buyers and the number will only grow. In 2017, 96% of Americans have made online purchases, of which 80% were in the past month alone.

It is no surprise that e-commerce is the future of the marketplace. However, only the strong survive. Customer behavior keeps changing and advancements in technologies pop up every day. These changes directly impact the market. Tom Brown, VP HR Americas and APAC at eBay, has shared with us his opinion about the future of work in e-commerce and the best ways for HR professionals to get ready for the changes.

According to Brown, e-commerce in and of itself may become a legacy definition in 10 years. This is because today it’s really all just becoming commerce. He adds that it will be important for both individuals and organizations to understand the technical interface for their customers and industries. From this perspective, Brown distinguishes several key factors that will assist companies in adapting to upcoming changes.

Data powered by AI will empower talent development and training

The future is unpredictable. The odds are that workforce roles and responsibilities will be more fluid in the future. As technology advances, more work will be done by machines. There will also be an increasing need for new specialists with skills and responsibilities that don’t currently exist. Take as examples, data architects, UX designers or IOS developers. These job titles barely existed 10 years ago. To stay competitive, companies will have to develop a new level of personalized training.

Companies will need to ensure that there are opportunities for their employees to build a quorum of different skill sets which won’t necessarily be linked to their job titles. It means that there will be a decreasing emphasis on the career ladder, as we know it. There will be a shift in focus for skills expansion across a much broader range of opportunities. 

While businesses will be adapting to new conditions, a crucial step to take will be data implication in the process of employee training. In Brown’s opinion, by tapping into the range of tools and data science, companies will get an infinitely more objective approach to employee development that will remove personal bias. It will curate and personalize learning, and create an opportunity to work proactively with each person to accelerate their career and personal growth.

From a talent perspective, this will drive the opportunity to enter into a brave new world, where an individual’s real talents can shine without the noise of less sophisticated generalized CV data that only serves as a distraction. This data will allow talent to rise more consistently than today and will enhance employees’ ability to move seamlessly through and up in organizations.

However, companies shouldn’t forget that data by itself is useless. The future of the work demands the ability to gather, process and use it in the right way to improve user experiences, enable curation and drive personalization. Brown says that the real challenge won’t be in gathering data, but in finding the expertise to drive insights and actions out of the data. He mentions the theory of bounded rationality introduced by Herbert Simon, which deals with human behavior. This theory offers insights into the way how cognitive limitations of people’s mind, allocated time, and available information influence the decision-making process. According to this theory, people tend not to choose the optimal option to maximize possible benefits, but the one that can be described as good enough or satisfactory.

Simon’s Theory of Bounded Rationality will become more of a challenge and may create environments where confirmation bias is all that is looked for or at least seen, in the data. If that happens, then the data could potentially increase our ignorance rather than enhance our perception.

To prevent this scenario, data will go hand-in-hand with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. With its development, all functions will evolve as well, including the role of the HR department. Basic capabilities, and increasingly more complex ones, will no longer be done by human beings, fundamentally changing the rules of engagement. Brown emphasizes that for HR, it will make data and insight more readily available which will trigger an even greater need for people who think critically. They will genuinely drive the business forward rather than just enabling it through the day to day task management.

How eBay is preparing for the Future of Work

Brown points out two strategies that eBay is utilizing and will continue to utilize, so they do not fall behind.

First and foremost, we continue to hire the best talent to drive both our core business and to accelerate us into a world where Machine Learning and AI is commonplace and expected.

Smart learning technologies will impact the evolution of talent development. Together with people analytics and personalized training based on just-in-time principles, there will be many more opportunities for companies not only to develop and train their current employees but also to attract new talent. Brown emphasizes that hiring exceptional, diverse talent and empowering them to be courageous, inventive and driven will deliver the best possible results.

Secondly, we’re investing in leadership. We believe that the future of work demands skilled, empathetic people leaders that drive a shared way of working with a meaningful purpose and values.

As Brown mentions, not all companies focus on it, although this idea could provide a sustainable advantage. The retention and attraction of new talent are impossible without forward-thinking leaders. According to Brown, evolving strong people managers to guide and build strong, highly motivated and productive teams will become of utmost importance in the talent wars.

What changes are expected in talent retention strategies

Even though Brown is reluctant to make predictions about the evolution of onboarding in the company and the e-commerce industry during the next 10 years, he mentions two aspects of retention:

  1. Employer value proposition.
  2. Challenges that come along with the distributed workforce.

Brown strongly believes that a toxic company culture (even for strong brands) will not be able to attract talent. He says that companies with fear-based, hierarchical, and ego-driven environments will certainly be the losers.

The employer value proposition has already changed. With the rise of social media with an increased focus on purpose and demand for transparency, companies can’t hide behind an inauthentic recruiting veil.

For e-commerce companies with a large distributed workforce, Brown has good news. He says that as millennials and Generation Z move more prominently into the workforce, some of the initial pain of a distribution and multi-locations will likely dissipate since they are exponentially better at engaging virtually than previous generations. Brown also adds that the tools themselves will move from their current clunky nature to something more seamless. This will also reduce the friction of a distributed workforce.

Tom Brown’s Top Three Predictions for The Future of Work in 2027

  • Objective, data-driven selection via Artificial Intelligence of candidates will remove the need for job interviews.
  • Huge spikes are expected to appear in employee engagement, as companies and employees get smarter about matching personalities and capabilities to culture and business needs – much like did for dating.
  • A reverse of the current anti-immigration policies seen in many countries will lead to the fact that most developed countries’ economies will stagnate and decline without the fresh ideas and talent that immigration brings.

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