April 1, 2016, 4:49 PM

Always be recruiting

With talent in demand, e-retailers work to retain their own people while developing ties to others who might be among their next hires.

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When mobile phone e-retailer Simplexity LLC filed for bankruptcy just weeks after Joel Layton joined the company as its senior vice president of digital marketing in early 2014, he didn’t panic about finding another job.

“I’m not one who is going to be sitting around so I went and found my next opportunity,” Layton says. “It took me less than 10 days.”

Experienced e-retail staffers rarely struggle to find a new job. They’re benefiting from a generally high level of hiring in technology fields. In fact, 78% of hiring managers anticipate more hiring in the first half of this year compared to the second half of last year, which would be a “record,” according to a survey of 400 hiring managers and staffing companies last fall by technical job site Dice.com. The survey finds that 71% expected to increase their technology staffs by 11% or more in the first half of 2016.

E-commerce is one of the drivers behind the demand for technical talent, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicts strong growth in certain jobs critical to e-commerce, such as web developers. The number of positions for that job title is expected to grow 27% from 2014 to 2024, the agency says. That compares to the 7% growth rate across all occupations, with demand for web developers “driven by the growing popularity of mobile devices and e-commerce.”

Online retailers are well aware of the competition for technology workers. They are focusing on both making their current employees happy so that they don’t jump to other jobs, while getting to know people they may want to recruit to fill new positions. And while six-figure salaries are common for senior e-commerce managers, employers and employees say the opportunity to grow and lead is often a more important perk for in-demand technology workers than foosball tables and free pizza.

The demand for people with e-commerce experience is being driven in part by store-based retailers that are increasingly focused on grabbing a piece of the burgeoning e-commerce market, which reached $341.7 billion in 2015, up 14.6% from $298.3 billion in 2014, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. It was the sixth year in a row that nationwide online sales have grown at or near 15%, while store sales growth has generally been in the low single digits.

As a result, the executives being recruited for e-commerce jobs are taking more senior positions in many retail organizations, says Harry Joiner, a longtime e-commerce recruiter. “They’re better jobs. They’re better assignments. We’re also seeing candidates get paid richer bonuses where the bonuses are measurable, relevant, objective and controllable.”

Those who are hiring say the hardest-to-fill positions tend to be for technical positions such as developers and data analytics specialists.

“It’s really hard to find talent,” says Jeff McRitchie, vice president of marketing at online binding and laminating equipment and materials e-retailer MyBinding.com. “You’re always trying to figure out what kind of compromises you’re going to make in order to get the right person.”

Recruiters are regularly emailing e-commerce professionals, trying to gauge their interest in new positions, several executives say.

“I’m very lucky and very fortunate at this time in my life that people are coming looking for me,” says Layton, who is currently vice president of digital marketing at apparel retailer rue21 Inc.

“Poaching has gotten a lot more aggressive,” adds Darren Hill, CEO of e-commerce platform provider WebLinc Corp., talking about trends he’s seen with his retailer clients. WebLinc is the site design vendor for ten retailers in the 2015 Internet Retailer Top 1000. “We’re seeing the e-commerce director that seems like a great fit for everybody get poached by some headhunter.”

Online fashion e-retailer Touch of Modern Inc., No. 473 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, is one company targeting e-commerce professionals who might not be looking.

“For more senior positions, we do a lot of passive tactical recruiting and a ton of networking internally and externally for referrals,” Touch of Modern co-founder and chief operating officer Jonathan Wu says. “We are strategic in terms of targeting companies that have strong internal operations and talented passive candidates [meaning candidates who are not currently looking for a job] who can add value, expertise and diversity to our organization.”

Search engine marketing firm Elite SEM knows its 150 employees are in demand, and makes a point of publicly celebrating and rewarding employees who recruiters try to lure away. Employees who get a call or email from a recruiter about an open position are encouraged to log it. In return, the employee who logs it first—often several Elite SEM staffers get contacted about the same job—gets a bottle of wine.

“We probably get over 30 poaches a month across the country,” says CEO Ben Kirshner, but with the wine reward “we’ve taken something uncomfortable—an employee got called by a recruiter—and turn it into a celebration. It says ‘look how well-known you are in this space,’ and we celebrate it.” Kirshner says employees have to keep the bottle—corked or empty, it’s up to the employee—on their desk as a trophy. Whoever has the most bottles at the end of the year gets a trip to Napa Valley paid for by the company. This along with several other efforts intended to make the workplace a positive one, have helped minimize employee churn. Kirshner says during the 12 years Elite SEM’s been around, just five people have left to work for another search marketing firm.

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