Retail Sector Career Pathways & Advice
Retail is a diverse industry and there are roles with every different skill set imaginable – from supermarket managers to visual merchandisers (the people who dress shop windows).
In retail, you’ll help with every aspect of creating a great customer experience, from assisting and serving customers to ensuring shelves are stocked and the store is welcoming and attractive. You’ll also get an insight into ordering, merchandising and the entire retail organisation.
As a job sector it is a big deal, employing three million workers across the UK, and totting up hundreds of billions of pounds in sales every year. It is the largest private sector employer in the country.
Working in retail doesn’t just involve working behind the check-out or stocking shelves - there are a wide range of roles, from high-level management to distribution centre.
The industry is going through a massive change at the moment, as many UK retailers are at the cutting-edge of e-commerce and are simultaneously finding their feet in selling their brands through social media – so it’s an exciting time to get involved.
Retail Sector Jobs
Working in retail means being diplomatic, organised, and – if you’re on the shop floor – being on your feet all day. Here are some other skills that are essential for the industry:- Ability to Work Under Pressure
- Verbal Communication
As an industry retail is one of the most flexible in terms of routes to the best jobs.
It is possible to progress from the bottom-up after starting a Saturday job, or to take a variety of formal schemes aimed at graduates – so that part time job you had at uni is likely to be worth hanging onto if retail is an area you want to pursue.
Unlike other industries you don’t need to have a specific qualification, and a lot of progression can be made on the job.
In a head office role within the retail sector you are likely to have a clear career path set out and clear targets that can be worked towards, especially as the majority of retail head offices are large, established businesses with clear pathways for progression – 66% of those working in the sector work for the 75 biggest retail companies.
Although definitely not compulsory, extra qualifications could give you a good advantage as you move forward in your career – especially if you’re planning on applying for management jobs in retail.
The Chartered Management Institute’s Level 5 Management and Leadership award, diploma or certificate, or similar offered by the Institute of Leadership and Management, could be a good place to start if looking for a course. Equally, if you’re looking to progress in areas like marketing, buying, supply chain or HR, check out the professional bodies for these industries to see what they offer (see our Useful Resources section below.)
Side note: according to Retail Choice, managers who hold professional qualifications stand to earn £152,000 more throughout the course of their career than those who don’t – so this is something worth considering!
Head office roles within the retail sector will traditionally command higher salaries than those on the shop floor, although management roles in-store can often offer decent packages too.
Equally, some big graduate employers – including Lidl and Aldi – have become famous for the high level of compensation (often around £40,000 + benefits) that they give those on their store and area management graduate schemes.
Here are some average salaries for roles in the industry, according to Payscale:
Retail store manager - £24,650
Retail store assistant manager - £18,995
Retail sales assistant -£14,000
Buyer - £35,391
Operations manager - £35,068
Marketing manager - £32,892
Marketing executive -£24,104
Merchandiser - £28,955
Qualification requirements & subjects to study
Although many store managers are hired internally or from people who started as school leavers, many retailers also offer fast-track schemes for university graduates to enter into retail management positions.
The application criteria and the specific details of the scheme will depend on the employer. Of course, having knowledge of and interest in the brand and being able to demonstrate previous customer facing experience will be useful in every case.
British Retail Consortium (BRC)
Skillsmart – Retail Management Skills
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)
Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS)
Chartered Management Institute
Institute of Leadership and Management
Centre for Retail Research
The Retail Appointment