At its most basic level retailing is the process of selling goods to customers, but this bald explanation doesn’t begin to cover the immense variety of roles within the sector, or how vast its stretch is.
You could be a sales manager, or you could be a buyer, a marketer, a brand manager, or someone who works in the customer relations department. Just as varied is the range of products you can sell. You could be selling books, or clothes, or food in anything from a small boutique to a huge hypermarket. Even though the news on the High Street may be gloomy with such well-known names as Woolworth, Zavvi and Adams going to the wall, other areas within retail are still doing well. Budget food retailers such as Aldi and Lidl have seen sales increase during the credit crunch as shoppers swap premium brands for cheaper alternatives. Also growing rapidly is E-commerce, or E-tailing, with people buying goods over the internet.
According to the Office Of National Statistics the UK retail sector employs over three million people in 291,000 retail businesses, which is about 11 per cent of the entire UK workforce. According to Kerry Burgess of Skillsmart Retail, the Sector Skills Council for retail, job availability within retail is actually pretty static. ‘The number of jobs being created is almost comparable to job losses,’ she explains. ‘Only recently Debenhams created 1,200 new jobs and as more people switch to shopping on the internet so new roles in IT will also arise. The thing is, shopping is the nation’s favourite pastime – people want to go out and buy things and treat themselves.’
Apparently, 30 per cent of retail workers now hold a degree or postgraduate qualification and the sector offers graduates real opportunities. Ian Parsons has over 30 years experience in senior roles in retailing. He recently created a task force called Retail Performance Improvement (RPI), to help retailers survive the current economic downturn. He says: ‘Anybody going into retail has to do so for the right reasons. It really does help to have some empathy with the product (you are selling) and you have to pick the right retailer to work for. The people who succeed very quickly are those who have a passion for what they do. What one learns in retail is a broad range of skills. However, if you really want to get on in retail sales you have to make a commitment to start on the shop floor and then work your way up. Because of this you must be willing to put in long hours of hard work. For those who show eagerness and ability the opportunities are there to get on very quickly. Retailers don’t tend to constrain people because they want them to progress quickly and you find quite young people in senior positions (some store managers will earn £60,000 before they reach 30).
What always impress are good personal attributes such as social skills and personal presentation. It also impresses when you get candidates who have done their homework and actually know something about the retail company they are applying to. So be sure you can demonstrate a decent amount of knowledge about the company. Find things out and there’s nothing like actually visiting shops to do that. Bright young candidates are still keen to get into retail and so will present themselves for two or three weeks just to get experience and knowledge.
Most retailers have great training programmes (including household names such as Sainsbury’s, Boots and M&S) that give you a proper management background as well as enhanced personal and professional skills. You have to love the pressure and also have to be a team player. It also helps if you love shopping. I still love going into shops and looking at products to see what is innovative and exciting!