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Working in retail


Retail is one of the oldest industries, and today it offers a wide range of opportunities, from shop-based roles to design and merchandising jobs in fashion to homeware and telecoms.



An overview of retail trends

The economic downturn created a surge in budget retailers, with even the normally middle to higher end high street shops offering value products. With many consumers trading down in all aspects of retail, from food to fashion and furnishings, it’s not surprising that many retailers jumped on the value bandwagon.

As the UK finally makes its way out of recession and consumer confidence grows, it’s likely that they will revert to old spending habits and once again opt for higher priced, higher quality items. The bumper Christmas in 2009 reported by John Lewis shows that even in tough times consumers want to spend.

Technology affects everyday life in many ways and e-retailing is no longer big news. However, it is the fastest growing retail sector, and with the invention of smart phones and improvements in mobile broadband, consumers are now able to buy anything anywhere. Initial concerns that the internet would mean the death of bricks and mortar shops have proved to be wrong, as most major retailers easily combine a multi-channel approach.

Sustainability and the environment were once big news, but their importance declined in the face of the recession; however, it appears to be making a comeback: Marks & Spencer has reconfirmed its commitment to Plan A and becoming a carbon neutral company; supermarkets are limiting their use of plastic bags; and many retailers now charge for bags to further reduce their use.

The recession had some high profile casualties and highlighted that even household names aren’t immune to bankruptcy. With dropping sales retailers had to cut costs and streamline their operation, and management structures are now flatter as layers of middle management have been removed.

Working in shops

Many people will have their first exposure to the working world as a weekend sales assistant in a local shop, but there is a lot more to a retail career and opportunities exist at all levels within retail operations.

Many large retailers such as supermarkets, department stores and fashion consortiums have graduate schemes. Competition for places is high and the recruitment process is rigorous, but after the initial training period most graduates are elevated directly to management level.

Opportunities aren’t reserved for those with degrees; people with the motivation and the aptitude can excel and progress quickly to management level and above. The retail sector is very good at recruiting from within and offers a career path to school and college leavers.

Retail sectors

While fashion is synonymous with the high street, there are many other sectors within retail. For the more technically-minded, telecoms and technology shops offer the opportunity to combine knowledge and passion with sales. All major telecoms companies have a network of stores, and with technology evolving at an ever increasing pace, electrical retailers require people with the ability to not only sell but to explain and understand the different products.

Ikea has revolutionized the way in which we furnish our homes, and it has also changed the way that we buy furniture and homeware. Once reserved to specialist furniture and department stores, homeware is now becoming more available; large fashion retailers such as Next have broken into the homeware market and the majority of UK supermarkets also cater to the home furnishings market, to an extent. All this gives consumers greater choice and flexibility with regard to cost and quality.

Supermarkets are going from strength to strength, with Tesco being the UK’s biggest retailer. The number and types of roles available in supermarkets far exceeds the traditional retail base of store operations.

The luxury market, while still fashion orientated, requires different skills. The experience of shopping in a luxury store is important, and those who work in them must have impeccable customer service skills. And with many consumers of luxury goods coming from the middle east or Asia, language skills are always in demand.

Technical and design roles

For a retail business to be successful the work that happens behind the scenes before a shop opens its doors is very important and requires specialist skills. Many of these roles are for the creative, being designed focused. Whether clothing, jewelry a table or a kettle anything that is sold in store starts its life as an idea. The fashion sector also has greater opportunities for more technical roles such as pattern cutters, garment and fabric technicians.

All retail outlets need to attract consumers to the store and once there, entice them to purchase. This area has become a business in its own right with many people dedicated to analyzing customer flow around store and behaviors when purchasing goods.

Ensuring a store is ‘dressed’ at its best is the job of a merchandiser. They will be involved in all aspects from products to be displayed to lighting, store layout and design.


Chocolate buyer would be high up on many peoples’ ideal job list, and for some it’s a reality. Buyers or purchasers play a key role within retail and all types of retailers regardless of product or selling model, purchase goods from manufacturers or wholesales.

For smaller organisations a buyer could have a wide remit and be responsible for buying the full range of products, in larger retailers buying teams are split into smaller categories – with buyers concentrating on a smaller product range.

Unlike buying in other organisations, buying within retail can be a high pressure environment. A mistake or error in judgment with regards to buying a product can lead to low sales and lost revenue. Misjudging the summer trend in shoes, furnishings or jewelry can have a severe impact.

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