June 2, 2005, 12:00 AM

Narrow Focus

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That’s keeping recruiters like Rogers busy, and it’s changing the hiring strategies of firms like GSI Commerce. Flanagan notes that the company has enlisted two recruiters in the last six months to help fill positions in interactive marketing, customer relationship management and IT. In the IT arena particularly, such recruiting help allows the company to find people with highly specialized skills, such as database architects and specialists in JDA Software’s retail demand chain applications.

With the exception of people experienced in running CRM applications, Flanagan points out that it’s not nearly as difficult to find IT talent as it was in the late ’90s. What’s also changed is the mindset about IT work, from both the employer and employee perspectives.

As a result of offshoring of software development, as well as a volatile economy over the last few years, IT workers today look for more stable job opportunities, as opposed to the chronic job hopping and contract work in the late ’90s. Along with that is a change in expectations. No longer are potential employees willing to sacrifice base salary for a promise of stock options or other perks such as in-office massages and game rooms.

New incentives

In a post-9/11, post-Enron environment, employers aren’t so willing to offer these up, either. But Rogers notes that where employers have taken away, they’ve added different incentives to retain talent.

“One company I worked for used to give stock options to buyers who got an effective performance evaluation or better and they were eligible for a bonus at a maximum of 20% of their salary,” she says. “Now they’ve eliminated the stock options but increased the bonus potential to 26%. Some companies have slightly increased salaries. That’s the kind of stuff I’ve seen.”

Except for the top executive levels, salaries were largely flat or lower in 2004 compared to 2003, according to Mercer Human Resource Consulting’s annual e-commerce Salary Survey. The average total cash compensation for top e-commerce executives in all industries climbed to $242,700 from $231,400. In the retail segment, however, compensation plunged to $186,800 from $233,000. The compensation for an e-commerce marketing director across all industries dropped to $122,200 from $151,500 in 2003.

Not everyone expects this downward trend to continue, however, as companies look for people with highly specialized skills. “Skills are more in demand as we’re recovering and seeing job growth,” says Jay Doherty, partner at Mercer Human Resources Consulting, “and we’ll see either pressure on wages or pressure on turnover. Often you see both.”

Flanagan says GSI Commerce has been putting more money into its merit pools to retain top talent. And because the company knows it’s looking for people with skills, such as interactive marketing, that will keep it ahead of the curve, it’s willing to pay top dollar to fill those positions. But Flanagan is skeptical about the prediction that turnover rates will increase again.

Seeking stability

“Some people got burned job-hopping in the dot-com craze, and I think with the economy relatively flat, people are more interested in settling into a position,” he says. “There’s a lot of studies out there suggesting that’s going to change. But they’ve been saying it’s going to change for about 18 months now and it really hasn’t.”

Whether it’s in marketing, merchandising, operations, or customer relationship management, online retailers are looking for people who have been there and done it. Although the talent pool for these areas is growing, it’s still not as deep as it is in traditional retail channels. But as more retailers view online sales as integral to the overall business, they will look to the job market to make their Internet operations as strong as their more established channels.

“It makes me look at how my team is structured, understanding the skill sets that are required as we grow,” Hess says. “The market is going toward specialized workers who understand and have relationships with the partners. I’ll be looking at that as I structure my team as to what kinds of skill sets should be developed and hired, as opposed to looking for jacks of all trades.”

John F. Moore is an Evanston, Ill.-based freelance business writer.

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