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Getting into retail without selling yourself short

retailjobsWe provide you with the run-down of the retail trade and the job opportunities available – from Retail Assistant to Fashion Designer.

Working in retail is a varied and fast-paced experience, and can range from manning the shop floor to producing promotional materials to advertise new products.  It is this variety teamed with the sector’s growth that makes retail such an exciting career choice. During 2010, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the industry created 12,750 extra full-time jobs, proving that it is an ideal arena for those looking to either get back into work or change career direction. As an industry it does not demand a particular level of education, with entry-level and graduate opportunities available.

In 2009, the BRC stated that the UK retail industry employs 11% of the total UK workforce and is predicted to grow further in 2012. (Furthermore the potential for expansion in the industry has radically increased by the introduction of technology and the internet to retail and although there are many store-related positions available, it is important to acknowledge the growing online retail business, with 150,000 online retailers in the UK alone.  In addition, the Interactive Media in Retail Group stated that in 2010, there were more than 600,000 jobs in e-retail or in support of the area.)

The majority of entry-level positions in the industry are located in Customer Services as Retail Assistants. With these roles, retailers tend to base employment on personal attributes as opposed to formal qualifications which means that a wide range of people can apply for such openings. The flexibility of roles within retail is what appeals to many employed in the sector; for example 46 per cent of employees in the sector are women that work part-time.The fact that many of the jobs available are not purely nine-to-five slots makes them ideal for parents seeking to fit employment around caring for their children. The positions are often flexible in terms of location too, with a variety available in store and in office.

retailjobs2Entry-level to degree
Working as a Retail Assistant typically consists of attempting to satisfy customers through the sale of the store’s products, ensuring that customer service is the top priority.  It is important to be able to cope well in pressured environments, as you will frequently have sales targets that you are expected to meet. As well as the sales aspect of the job, Retail Assistants are often involved in replenishing stock on the shop floor, putting up displays and marking price changes to products. Essentially, the drive behind retail is profit, so whichever area of the industry you are involved in, it will be sales that provides the momentum for your job.

If you have studied as an undergraduate, graduate retail trainee schemes are offered by many of the major retailers in the UK and provide opportunities for fast career progression. Usually lasting for one to three years, the programmes allow graduates to experience the entire scope of retail – from management to finance – in a short period of time. This commonly leads to the graduate gaining a position in their preferred area of retail and perhaps eventually a managerial position – whether it is as an area manager or a departmental head.  In terms of qualifications for graduate positions, degrees such as marketing, IT or fashion are the most well-suited to retail; however for the majority of roles, a subject-specific degree is not essential.  

A varied industry: Picking out the right position
To understand working in retail as an industry and decide which area would be of interest to you, it is important to grasp the individual function of its divisions:

Design: involves the creation of products that fit a specific brief laid out by the retailer. A creative role, it demands a secure knowledge of market trends and the determination to follow the project from the initial design stages, to eventually forming plans or patterns for mass production. An art-based degree such as fashion or graphic design is usually sought for positions within design due to the necessity of relevant experience and the ability to combine creative flair and commercial awareness.

The buying sector: is responsible for selecting and planning products to be placed in-store. Buyers make decisions about which merchandise to purchase in response to market trends, financial funding and customer demands.  By fully understanding customers’ needs, the buyers search for new products and review current stock to see whether it is proving profitable for the retailer.  Interacting with other sectors is imperative for buyers as they are constantly reacting to customer demand and managing their products accordingly.  This role requires a high level of responsibility in a pressured environment, as well as good analytical skills and effective decision-making.

The merchandising division: Working in close association with buying, the merchandising division in retail are responsible for assuring that the correct quantity of a certain product reaches stores in time. The merchandiser selects how many of the products – that the buyer has selected – are sold and the price at which they are sold and thus monitors profit margins.  The roles within merchandising typically involve monitoring stock and sale levels and making projections in response to these, ensuring that the retailer is able to make as great a profit as possible.

Marketing and advertising: in the retail industry can prove exciting yet challenging.  The job of the Marketing Executive for example is to promote the retailer’s products, as well as arrange events and sponsorship in association with the retailer and carry out important customer research. Fundamentally, marketing acts as the bridge between the customer and the retailer. Jobs within marketing and advertising are frequently located within specialist companies, although some retailers do have in-house teams.

Human Resources (HR): leads management strategies that ensure the smooth running of a company.  This will mainly entail the recruitment of labour for the retail industry, selecting the most appropriate people to encourage sales of the retailer’s products.  They also direct the management of these employees with regards to staff training, morale-building and behaviour management.

Salaries in retail can vary as greatly as the job roles within the industry.  Retail Assistants generally begin at £11,000 to £15,000 and if the job progresses into a Store Manager position then you can expect to earn up to £20,000 to £40,000.  This difference is visible across the majority of areas in retail and is dependent upon experience and responsibility – as well as location, with salaries varying widely across the UK – but it is important to remember that there are always opportunities for career development.

Great opportunities
With the vast potential for growth and expansion due to online developments, retail is an exciting business to be currently involved in. With such a high turnover rate in the industry, opportunities for fresh talent to enter retail are common, but you need to determine which aspect of the field you can envisage yourself excelling within.  Regardless of the area though, you must thrive on a fast-paced environment that has sales at its heart if you want to get into and succeed in retail.


This article was first published in Careers with Hayley Taylor in August 2011. [Read the digital edition here]


 Images: Getty

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