Last month's leadership change at US retail giant Gap Inc was widely seen as indicative of the company's transition to a more digital focused business model - but is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg as more and more retailers line up CEOs who combine digital savvy with a global mindset.

Art Peck, the head of Gap's digital division is to replace Glenn Murphy as Gap's CEO in February. But recent research suggests the retail sector as a whole is heading for an overhaul of the C-suite and its boardroom by 2020.

The study by executive search firm Berglass+Associates and Women's Wear Daily surveyed 127 retail professionals, 32% of whom were CEOs. The responses suggest a very different breed of board directors by 2020, with a majority expecting to add leaders with technology backgrounds and global expertise.

Survey participants recognised merchandising among the top three most important skillsets of a retail CEO both today and in the future. But digital/technology and global expertise round out the top three most important skillsets that will be required of successful CEOs in 2020.

Perhaps the biggest change to the C-suite will be the addition of a chief customer officer (CCO). While only 5% of the companies surveyed have a CCO today, nearly 25% expect to fill this role by 2020.

Leadership will also likely come from outside the industry, specifically from technology, pure-play e-retailers, and consumer packaged goods.

Product innovation, consumer engagement and talent acquisition also remain paramount to success. While great change is coming to the C-suite and boardroom, the survey found that retail's core performance areas will remain the same. Product innovation (98%), consumer engagement (98%), talent acquisition/retention (98%), and providing consistent consumer experiences across touchpoints (98%) were the top four areas of focus in both 2014 and 2020.