Article: Evolving role of HR in the eCommerce era

Strategic HR

Evolving role of HR in the eCommerce era

eCommerce industry is not just redefining online trading in this day and age, but is also influencing the HR practices. Read on to know more.
Evolving role of HR in the eCommerce era

Ecommerce has proved to be a challenging space for the HR professionals, especially in India. With e-commerce becoming the fast-growing sunrise sector of today, there is an absolute dearth of candidates perfectly fitting the job requirements. Unlike any other proprietorship model, human resource professionals in the e-commerce domain need to constantly be on the fly, work closely with various verticals to understand the ideal profiles and scout from the given sea-pool of an employable workforce to discover the closest fits. 

Once hired, the candidates undergo a training period which may last till a month or more, before possessing the right skill set, attitude and wherewithal to take on the responsibilities of the job. And that, however, is just the beginning of the roller-coaster ride. 

In the recent past, leading e-commerce portals in India have been in the news, for all the wrong reasons. With SnapDeal downsizing and Flipkart battling with higher rates of attrition, one can only imagine the challenges for the e-commerce HR professionals today. In the view of all the challenges gnawing at the human resource management for the e-commerce, the time has come for the companies to break the shackles of the redundant models and develop a truly unprecedented approach towards hiring and retaining their top talent. 

Evolving norms and landscapes

Change, as they say, is the only constant. The contemporary times have come to be synonymous with digitalization, technological innovations, and the millennial generation. The e-commerce companies today need to also factor in the socio-economic, political and technical levels across the nation. Here’s deciphering how the same is impacting the present day businesses. 


The massive nation-wide digitalization has disrupted the way we used to function and communicate. Every business today is impacted by cloud and mobile computing. The same can also be credited for making e-commerce a norm in India. Although our western counterparts shop online ten times more, India does boost the second largest number of smartphone users across the globe. Besides, with the boom in internet access and smartphone affordability, the number is only set to grow in the near future. 

Technology and  automation taking precedence 

The world of e-commerce is constantly evolving with technical innovation disrupting the status quo today. For instance, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been one of the key defining technologies of our times. In fact, as per IDC, the AI market is expected to grow from USD 8 billion to USD 47 billion by 2020. e-commerce sector has shown agility in adopting AI, driven with the intent of automating processes, scaling up fast and offering an intuitive, almost magical experience to their online shoppers. 

Owing to the widespread involvement of technology, CEOs of today are increasingly referring to their ventures as technology company, instead of online marketplaces. Owing to the evolving requirements, HR professionals in e-commerce are becoming tech-savvy and agile. From being involved in product testing to working closely with the tech team in determining the ideal skillset of candidates, e-commerce HR professionals constantly need to step outside their traditional roles and step into the shoes of strategic business partners.

Millennials are calling the shots 

At the same time, millennial – the generation aged 18 to 34 has emerged as the leading employable generation and also, the largest generation alive. Opinionated and empowered, and always connected via social media and smartphones, millennials seldom shy from asking what they desire and hence, are changing the rules of the game, especially the hiring strategies adopted by the companies today. 

For instance, utilizing gamification and hackathons for hiring; by hosting live hackathons and contests, e-commerce companies can fairly test the true calibre of the candidates, and hence, make the right call. In addition, companies are asking candidates to submit an Instagram post describing why they are the ideal match for the positions vacant. Social Media hiring has anyway been on a rise for e-commerce companies and the same trend is expected to gain more traction in near future.

Creating great employee experience 

Forbes was amongst first of the many thought leaders in the industry to predict employee experience as the numero uno trend for human resource management. Simply put, employee experience is about viewing corporate structures from the lens of an employee and encompasses three major aspects: the workplace design, the availability of tools and technology for boosting efficiency and new learning for employees and lastly, the required attitudes or behavior patterns for achieving the best results at work. 

As predicted by Mercer, an astounding 90% of employers expect intense competition for retaining their top talent. This is further true in the fast growing markets of North America and Asia, especially India. By focusing on carefully crafting an unmatched employee experience, organizations can utilize its core values and culture as the USP for winning the loyalty of their top talent. 

In fact, Human Resource Leaders working with several global giants like General Electric and IBM are adhering to this change, revamping workplaces to deliver a compelling and personalized experience to their employees. 

Adopting or developing an approach that is centered on employee experience surely calls for certain system-wide overhauls. For instance, instead of office sitting plans that appear like a sad replica of assembly lines in the manufacturing units, organizations today are considering open floor plans. Various studies have suggested that the physical spaces impact the performance of employees. The same studies further reveal that while open spaces are more conducive for collaborative tasks requiring teams to brainstorm and discuss different ideas, closed and isolated spaces allow them to close the final drafts. Hence, HR professionals are creating an office space where employees are free to switch between different places, based on the activity they are performing that day. 

In essence, instead of thinking office spaces as brick and mortar buildings, HR professionals are turning it into the narratives of culture and values of the companies. However, the revamps go beyond altering physical spaces. Ensuring diversity inclusion, adopting a zero per cent tolerant policy for workplace discrimination or harassment, are some of the changes being implemented by the aware and sensitive HR professionals of today. Certain organizations are providing a day’s paid leave for employees to tackle their finances or file taxes. In addition, providing flexible working hours, allowing employees to work from home or from a café, hosting events meant for fostering ties and a feeling of camaraderie between employees etc are all part of the HR agenda today. 

HR e-commerce and artificial Intelligence 

Artificial Intelligence has impacted Human Resource Management for the e-commerce. Via big data analytics and artificial intelligence, e-commerce companies can minimize the errors in hiring, make processes more efficient and eliminate tedious tasks adding little to no value in hiring. However, the adoption of Artificial Intelligence goes beyond the process level automation and optimization of hiring, since the technology is also automating several functions traditionally requiring support staff. 

Last year, we had already observed a surge in the utilization of chatbots at a global level. Primarily an AI-powered computer program, chatbots can simulate conversation via either speech or text. Even in India, the trend is increasingly gaining steam with several e-commerce portals deploying chatbots for automating conversations with clients and online shoppers. Whether it is providing virtual digital assistants, or answering repetitive process- or product-related queries, these chatbots are increasingly replacing support staff. 

Industry experts are of the opinion that Artificial Intelligence will further seep into our everyday work and personal lives. Instead of being paranoid about technology taking over employment opportunities, we need to perhaps consider how the current jobs and workplace scenarios would evolve with such advanced technology made available at our disposal. 

Indian e-commerce: the home for opportunities 

Despite speculations, the e-commerce sector is here to stay in India. Following the Digital India initiative, with the internet and connected devices expected to reach out the very last mile of rural India, the e-commerce sector is expected to only grow in leaps and bounds. As of today, the Asia-Pacific region as surpassed Europe in becoming the largest e-commerce market in the world. Although a major chunk of this market is claimed by China, India looks poised to leapfrog the loopholes and is expected to contribute 1.61% in the global GDP. 

All these facts boil down to the immense employment opportunities in the e-commerce domain for the workforces of tomorrow. HR Professionals are doing the groundwork today to not only combat the challenges but also prepare the workplaces to best contain and nurture the promise of future.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Employee Relations

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