Open Workforce Models Drive Retail Innovation

  • December 2, 2019 at 2:23 PM EST
  • By Retail TouchPoints Team
Michael P. Morris, Topcoder
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By Michael P. Morris, Topcoder

Tech skills are critical to essential retail business functions, such as warehouse management and supply chain optimization. The role of software developer is now the third most common job in retail, as well as one of the fastest growing. With the traditional brick-and-mortar model continually challenged, technology isn’t just essential to growth, it’s essential to survival.

Some retail execs fear a projected shortage in tech talent will make it difficult to solve business issues and innovate fast enough to lead in a market that continues to shift online. While the move to web shopping continues to be a reality, the apparent skills gap and talent shortage issues are not.


In the last two decades, digital connectivity and platforms designed to streamline access to talent have made it possible to outsource even the most complex IT/data challenges. Retailers can augment internal staff and free them to do other activities, as well as often get better technology solutions faster, by embracing a mobile, multitasking, gig-economy workforce.

No War On Retail Tech Talent, More Of A ‘Persistent Blind Spot’ In Workforce Acquisition

Freelancers were once considered a secondary choice to full-time employees. Now, many of the world’s best developers and data professionals are choosing the gig economy over traditional employment. The open workforce model is driving digital retail innovation and skilled technologists have never been more accessible to help.

To tackle challenges in areas like user experience, data, web site engineering or cybersecurity, some retailers have begun utilizing innovative staffing approaches like crowdsourcing. This is where global tech/IT professionals with skills in high demand by retail (such as JAVA, SQL and HTML) collaborate and compete on projects, and companies pay only for the solutions they want.

Retailers Starting To Level Up The Online Retail Experience

Retailers are seeing opportunity in blending in-store experiences with digital engagement using AR, AI and algorithms. Topcoder has worked successfully with retailers like Macy’s and CPG brands like Coca-Cola, Land O’Lakes and Kellogg’s, to help them tap into the gig economy with measurable ROI.

For example, Macy’s realized that a collaborative on-demand talent marketplace was a bridge to reach the talent it needed to revamp its most important digital asset: was strong from a transactional perspective, but chose to leverage an open workforce model to help it re-envision consumer experiences with a focus on delivering its brand promise: to be the fashion authority.  

In just under three weeks from initial idea to producing results, Macy’s had 41 technologists across seven countries working on its project, with 18 original design concepts and more than 180 unique screens presented back to the Macy’s team for consideration. High-quality design, UI/UX exploration and optionality was delivered to Macy’s in record time by infusing competition and incremental challenges into the design process.

Open Workforce Model Gives Fresh Perspective To CPG Web Site Improvements, Retailer Loyalty Mobile App Design Concepts

Another example of a major CPG company successfully leveraging an open workforce model is Land O’Lakes, one of the largest producers of butter and cheese in the United States. Under its umbrella, the company includes brands that offer animal feed and seed/crop protection such as Purina, Calva, Nutra Blend and PMI Nutrition.

Land O’Lakes began working with web site designers and technologists from the gig economy through a leading on-demand talent marketplace provider. 10 significant projects were completed in just under a year at a fraction of the cost of hiring an agency. The on-demand workforce met Land O’Lakes’ project requirements and provided affordable ideas with high quality outputs that were customized to individual brand needs.

“Crowdsourcing with an open workforce meant the brands had more flexibility,” said Allen Niere, Digital Development Manager for Land O’Lakes. “The variety of approaches is something you don’t get with an agency,” he said. “With an agency or a single designer, you get one person’s solution and their flair applied to the design. If they move things around to update it, it tends to look the same.”

The ‘War On Talent’ May Eventually Knock On Corporations’ Doors, But It Hasn’t Yet

As the retail industry continues to shift and e-Commerce grows in usage, there is a strong opportunity to revolutionize business through technology. On-demand, open workforce models can empower retailers and CPG companies to be innovative in development and achieve digital transformation objectives to enhance functionality, engagement and user experience. Tech talent worldwide is simply waiting for retailers to just reach out.

Michael P. Morris is the CEO of Topcoder (a global community of 1.5M+ design, development and data science experts disrupting enterprise software innovation through competition) and Global Head of Crowdsourcing for IT-services leader Wipro. Second only to his commitment to family — and perhaps waterskiing — Morris has served in leadership roles at Topcoder since 2002. A gig economy expert, he speaks worldwide about cultivating a passionate workforce to drive the transformative nature of digital asset development across every industry imaginable. Previously a GM/SVP at Appirio, Morris led its crowdsource offering (Cloudspokes) through the acquisition of Topcoder, and then managed customer, sales and services teams to solidify the Topcoder brand as the largest crowdsourcing provider in the world. He was an integral part of Topcoder becoming a Wipro company through the acquisition of Appirio in 2016.



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