June 11, 2009, 12:00 AM

Agility is one key to success in cross-channel retail role, consultant says

Retailers should look for abilities, not just previous job experience that’s a precise match, in cross-channel staff, multichannel retail consultant Jim Okamura will tell attendees at IRCE 2009 next week.

Multichannel retailers need executives and managers who can be effective across channels, but in this relatively new realm of retailing, it’s sometimes difficult to find staff with long experience in a cross-channel role on their resumes. To fill those positions, retailers may be better off looking for traits and abilities rather than previous job experience that’s a precise match, says Jim Okamura, senior partner at consultants J.C. Williams Group.

Okamura, who is speaking at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 15-18 in Boston, in a session entitled Developing your staff, will share insights on how to define emerging cross-channel roles within the retail organization and what to look for in candidates to fill them. He will co-present with Gordon Magee, Internet marketing manager of pet supplies retailer Drs. Foster & Smith, who’ll provide a retailer’s perspective.

Okamura defined the roles held by cross-channel staff with responsibilities in both online and offline operations as “matrix” roles, meaning that these staffers report to two different superiors within the retail organization. The matrix jobs are usually specific to a functional area-for example, a senior merchandising manager within the e-commerce team that reports to the head of e-commerce but also the head merchant in the retailer’s offline business.

To staff these cross-channel positions, Okamura says, retailers may need to look beyond those people currently filling roles that are clearly web-centric, such as web marketing specialists. “Those are specialists who live and breathe the web,” he points out.

One predictor of success in a matrix role is the organizational knowledge of an individual and the respect accorded to him or her within the organization, Okamura says. This means the role often can be filled at a senior level from the ranks of senior staff, he adds.

Another key to success in matrix roles is agility in handling two different areas of responsibility and the ability to actively create what are essentially new positions within the organization-positions that will continue to change as cross-channel integration becomes tighter, Okamura says.

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