June 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

It’s a seller’s market on the job front

Even with better pay and perks, web retailers struggle to hire all of the skilled employees they need.

Retailers all know about supply and demand. If they have a hot product, customers will clamor for it and pay top dollar. Online retailers are finding the same when it comes to hiring and retaining employees.

With the web retailing market growing at an annual rate of about 25%, online retailers across the board are adding staff and rolling out new programs or perks to attract and retain skilled employees-and many are finding that the law of supply and demand is alive and well in the e-commerce job market. These are the conclusions of Internet Retailer’s latest monthly survey, this one on salaries and personnel management.

The survey, which includes responses from 338 chain retailers, catalog companies, virtual merchants and consumer brand manufacturers, reveals that 50.8% rate the present job market for attracting skilled employees and managers as difficult and 14.1% as extremely difficult. Only 32.2% of the retailers surveyed believe filling their available jobs is not difficult, followed by 2.9% who report no hiring problems.

An understatement

And some experienced recruiters believe those numbers actually understate the problem. “65% of online retailers are finding it difficult or somewhat difficult to attract talented employees, but I think the actual number is much higher than that,” says Les Gore, managing partner of Executive Search International, a Newton, Mass., executive recruiting firm. “Many companies want to keep their top job searches quiet because they don’t want to give away a competitive advantage.”

Most web retailing organizations are small and operate with a full-time staff of under 10 employees, according to the survey. 47.7% of all survey respondents have an e-commerce staff of 3 to 10 full-time employees, compared with 11% of organizations with only 1 employee and 9.2% with 2 full-time workers. Almost one quarter-23%-operate web retailing programs that employ 11 to 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees and 9.1% have an e-commerce staff of more than 50.

But the survey results also reveal that the average staff is getting larger. 14% of web retailers have expanded their e-commerce staff by more than 50% in the past year and 24.5% by 25.1% to 50%. Another 22.5% have expanded between 11% and 25%; and 20.5% by 10% or less. Only 18.5% are operating with the same number of employees as a year ago.

The survey was e-mailed in early May to all subscribers of IRNewsLink, the magazine’s e-newsletter, and all responses were collected and analyzed by Vovici Corp. (formerly WebSurveyor), which has partnered with Internet Retailer in a series of surveys on the e-retailing industry. Participating in the survey were 81 chain retailers, 62 catalogers, 159 virtual merchants and 36 consumer brand manufacturers,

Web retailers also are paying more for new employees-and to retain their existing workforce with the experience and skills in running sophisticated e-commerce platforms and digital marketing programs (see related story, p. 34). Compared to a year ago, the Internet Retailer survey finds that 15.9% and 50.3%, respectively, are paying much higher or somewhat higher salaries, while 31.3% are keeping compensation levels the same and only 2.5% are cutting back.

“Two of the biggest challenges e-retailers are facing these days are finding top talent and then getting the right job candidate to commit,” says Josh Gampel, director of Internet marketing recruitment for Mangieri/Hull Solutions, a Sandy Hook, Conn., executive recruiting firm. “We are in a very candidate-driven market and the top candidates are getting multiple offers.”

To recruit both experienced workers and talented newcomers that can be trained to manage key e-commerce and digital marketing applications, web retailers are using a variety of means to advertise openings. “Companies are trading up,” says Harry Joiner, an e-commerce executive recruiter based in Roswell, Ga. “They’ve been doing e-commerce long enough where they know exactly what they want in a job candidate and they are willing to spend the time finding the right individual or replacing a mediocre employee with a more qualified applicant.”

Today, highly specialized workers, especially candidates with search engine marketing skills, are among the employees most recruited by Internet retailers. But retailers also are willing to pay more for qualified candidates that can be trained as analytics managers and marketing specialists. The survey finds that 19.3% of online merchants will pay a starting salary of $40,001 to $50,000 for an entry-level online marketing position, while 9.1% pay beginning digital marketers $50,001 to $60,000 and 5.1% pay more than $60,000. In comparison, 31% pay an annual starting salary of $35,001 to $40,000, while 23.9% pay under $35,000 and 11.6% don’t hire for that position.

Entry level

More retailers also are paying annual salaries greater than $40,000 for entry-level search engine optimization and web analytics specialists. For example, 36.6% of chain retailers, catalogers, virtual merchants and consumer brand manufacturers pay their newly hired analytics specialists $40,001 to $60,000, while 5.1% pay more than $60,000. Less than a third-29.4%-pay less than $40,000 per year, while 28.9% don’t use internal analytics specialists.

In the search for a beginning search engine optimization specialist, the survey finds that 16.8% of retailers will offer a qualified candidate an annual salary of $50,000 to $60,000 and 11% more than $60,000. Only 12.2% of companies pay less than $35,000, while 28% pay between $35,001 and $50,000 and 32% don’t hire optimization specialists.

“The job market for pay-per-click and site optimization specialists is especially hot because more retailers want to take all of their search engine marketing activities in-house,” Gampel says. “They see some search engine marketing agencies generating millions of dollars in revenue and they want to avoid paying huge agency fees.”

Most retailing employers already have some experienced managers. Just under two-thirds of all web retailers-64.9%-taking part in the Internet Retailer survey report that their senior e-commerce and digital marketing managers have been on the job between 2 and 6 years, with 10% having more than 6 years of experience. In comparison, only 25% of survey respondents report that their top online retailing managers have been with their companies 2 years or less.

Chain of command

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