The range of roles available in retail is diverse - and stretches far beyond the well known and visible positions on the ’front line’ in stores and supermarkets. Think about positions that touch all aspects of the buying cycle, from researching and designing the products which a store stocks, managing the planning and logistics of store operations, ensuring the standards of visual merchandising in stores, or checking up on the performance of national chains. Then consider the vast array of roles based in the offices of larger store chains working in finance, IT, personnel, legal or procurement departments. And still, you have not stepped away from the major main stream employers - don’t forget the retail opportunities on offer if you’re entrepreneurial, working independently in online retail, through established sites like eBay or etsy, or through a franchise model.
Whilst I would admit a touch of bias on the basis of ten happy years working in retail myself, the breadth of options available really does mean that retail is the ideal sector to turn a passion or hobby into a career. For some inspiration check out these ideas.
Number One: Supermarket or other Store Manager
You may think that the role of a manager in a supermarket or other store is self explanatory, but you would be surprised by the variety of different specialised positions, particularly within larger supermarkets where the management team can include dozens of people. Whilst smaller units might only have a handful of generalist managers employed, these roles give a great overview of the full range of roles and responsibilities needed to make a store function.
In a large supermarket you will find managers specialising in certain areas of the store, such as the bakery or counters, running specific shifts, managing admin and personnel, security or the supply processes for the store. The opportunity to build a great, well rounded and long term career in a larger chain, is supported by internal development programmes designed to move managers round roles and stores to gain experience.
Number Two: Internet based or face to face retail entrepreneur
The popularity and accessibility of internet retail via established platforms like eBay and etsy means that people interested in retail can turn their hobbies into a business. Consider ways to make your interests profitable - selling on vintage clothes, or goods you’ve found touring car boot sales, marketing homemade craft products, or setting up shop with unique products you found on your travels.
If the independence of this model doesn’t appeal, then there are plenty of entrepreneurial opportunities with franchise models, hosting parties for a percentage of product sales for example. This concept has become somewhat more sophisticated and broad since the days of the Tupperware party, and you could be selling anything from books to high end jewellery.
Number Three: New store or seasonal planner
Ever wondered who decided where new stores open, or even who chose that the toilet roll belongs on aisle three near the dog food? If you’re interested in analytics and studying patterns of behaviour, roles in planning could be of interest. Major chains have departments of people who choose new store sites based on details such as the competition in the area, the number of local residents and the demographic make up of the community. By watching how people tend to shop, and pairing this with logistical detail - such as keeping items that need to be replenished frequently close to a warehouse door, planners map out the seasonal and longer term floor plans of stores.
Number Four: Personal shopper
If you love to shop, this could be a dream job. Personal shoppers in department and high street fashion stores help buyers select clothes to suit their taste, shape and style. An eye for fashion and an ability to tactfully give feedback are needed. Most shoppers are employed directly by stores, although some individuals do work independently as self-employed personal shoppers working for a fee.
Number Five: Buyer
The buying department decides what ends up on the stores shelves for customers to select - and you could be employed buying milk for a supermarket, hats and gloves for a fashion chain, or discount chocolate bars for a special offer in a chain of convenience stores. The roles are varied, especially as different products come with very different experiences - buying a commodity like milk, for example, will involve quality checks and negotiation on price, but little or no product development, whilst buying clothing or accessories might involve playing a real role with suppliers in designing the items you wish to sell and sourcing them at a price and lead time to suit. Retail chains tend to have large buying departments with a hierarchical structure meaning you could start a role straight from school or Uni as a buying assistant, before working your way up the chain of command and exploring different product areas on the way.
Number Six: Mystery shopper
Most large retailers (and indeed hospitality and service chains) have a mystery shopper programme to check up on the quality of service offered, and mystery shoppers are generally self employed, taking on the assignments that suit them. You might have to make a specific purchase and complete a report on the shop assistant’s performance, or survey shoppers leaving a store to find out about their experiences. If you’re looking for a side hustle this is perfect with multiple agencies allowing you to sign up and take on tasks as they come up. Try Retail Eyes or Retail Active, or search for agencies that are currently recruiting on the internet.
Number Seven: Supply chain or inventory analyst
Supply and inventory teams work alongside buyers in retail head offices, and are responsible for making sure that the products selected by the buyers make it on time to the right stores, in the right quantities. You might be involved in predicting sales for a certain clothing item, dealing with suppliers who ship to your stores from far flung places, or more local logistics to plan the routes for lorries distributing goods to a number of shops within a region. These roles require a high degree of numeracy, and an ability to problem solve - if your shipment of new products gets caught up in a port strike and is stuck in a container ship in the middle of the sea, you would be the one needing to manage expectations and ensure there is something in the shop for customers to buy!
Number Eight: Human resources manager
With large supermarkets employing hundreds of people, HR and personnel roles can exist in single sites, across a region of smaller stores, and in head offices. Roles could be generalist or specialist, with a focus on recruiting and training new staff, and managing employee relations to ensure that any issues are quickly diffused. The pace of the roles tends to be frenetic and suits those who like to be involved in the day to day running of a store as well as working in a more specialised function.
Number Nine: In house designer
Many fashion chains, department stores and even supermarkets employ in house designers to help them translate the catwalk trends in a way that their customer will appreciate. A great background in design and an ability to understand the customer base of the particular store are essential - but if you love design, and are looking for a commercial opportunity to work for a larger retailer, this might be the route for you.
Number Ten: Visual merchandiser
Visual merchandisers work in stores and offices, designing the ’look and feel’ of stores, whether that be dressing mannequins in fashion stores, or tables in the homeware department of a supermarket. As well as an eye for fashion, you will need to be able to follow corporate plans, add your own flair to the look of your store, and understand the particular pieces that are being bought by your customer. By placing the most fashion forward or commercially successful items in prominent positions, and regularly refreshing your displays, visual merchandisers get new customers over the threshold, and increase the profitability and ultimate success of stores.
Retail holds opportunities for people of all interests, at all career stages. It is a meritocratic industry in which hard work and a passion for the business can take you far - regardless of your background or educational qualifications. If you’re ’sold’ on the possibilities, start exploring your options today!