Ready for Retail?

By J&C Team

The UK’s shops - whether located on a busy high street, a boutique arcade or online – offer a plethora of choices for job seekers!

The British economy may be experiencing uncertain times, but if there’s one thing British people like to do, it’s shop. Retail is the UK’s largest private sector employer and generates more than £358bn a year in sales.

And while many high-street stores have ceased trading in recent years, smaller, independent shops are appearing and online shopping is continuing to grow in popularity.

Working in retail can be a great choice if you enjoy meeting people and follow trends. If you relish the excitement of selling, working on the shop floor could be an option. There are also plenty of roles behind the scenes, in areas such as design, marketing, buying and merchandising, as well as roles within e-commerce, a sector created by the ever-growing number of online stores.

“We’re seeing a divergence between the big players and more niche stores,” says Richard Cuthbertson, research director at the Oxford Institute of Retail Management at the University of Oxford. “The big players are getting bigger and more global through the efficiencies of their back office, and their investment in supply chain, IT, and so on. At the same time, we’re also seeing the growth of stores that focus on a particular customer.”

Which role?

When it comes to retail, opportunities are vast. You generally won’t need formal qualifications if you start as a store assistant, but you will need a positive, hard-working attitude, good communication skills and the ability to remain calm under pressure.

You can also get your foot in the door by taking an apprenticeship, studying for qualifications as you earn, or you can complete a diploma or degree and join as a management trainee. “It’s still possible to join a retailer after leaving school, college or university and develop a successful career, as retailers promote on merit,” says Cuthbertson.

Graduates are in high demand in retail – the majority of big names take on graduates every year through their in-house management training schemes. Strong business acumen gained from a business management or marketing degree can be sought-after by employers and stand you in good stead for a successful career in retail.

“Higher academic qualifications should help you along the way and may make your path quicker or easier,” says Cuthbertson. “However, retailers invest in training and it’s this investment in people that has helped develop today’s retail leaders.”

Why retail?

There are many reasons to choose a career in the retail industry:

  • It’s a sociable industry, where you’ll meet and work alongside lots of different types of people
  • The work environment is fast-paced and never dull – businesses are constantly thinking of ways to reach new customers and keep old ones coming back for more
  • You can get a foot on the ladder without any formal qualifications
  • In-house promotions are common – work hard and you’ll soon come across opportunities to progress
  • The size of the industry means there are jobs to suit all passions, from art and fashion to food and tech.
  • You may get discounts on store items.
  • The hours are often flexible, so suited to those with other commitments
  • You’ll gain lots of transferable skills, such as customer service
  • You could potentially work around the world, as retail is everywhere –from cruise liners to the huge malls of Paris, New York and the Middle East. 


Top Retail Employers

According to the Guardian UK 300 2017/18 survey, the top 10 graduate retail employers are:

  • Amazon
  • John Lewis Partnership
  • Arcadia Group Ltd
  • Marks & Spencer
  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • Aldi
  • Boots
  • Lidl
  • TJX Europe (TK Maxx)
  • Next plc

Graduate Opportunities

The retail sector workforce is projected to grow by 54,800 by 2020. The majority of this growth (41,700) is expected to be in managerial positions.

This demand for higher-skilled managers is due to technology, more sophisticated supply-chain management and customer trends, according to an industry overview by

In an increasingly challenging market, companies have to compete to provide better customer service, including online and multi-channel retailing. Customers want to combine the personal service of traditional retailing and the convenience of using technology – hence the growth of ordering online and collecting in store. Consequently, there is a demand for graduates with technical skills to produce apps for smartphones, for example.

There is also a demand for graduates who can combine commercial awareness and creativity for roles in marketing and buying, and graduates with analytical or number skills for merchandising.

Online retail sales are predicted to grow 13.8% in 20181, which means a greater demand for efficient, quick delivery of goods, so supply chain management and logistics are also growth areas in the sector.

What skills do I need?

  • Calmness under pressure – you may have a queue of customers and it will be your job to keep them calm and make them feel valued, even though they’ve been kept waiting.
  • Initiative – you’ll be dealing with different scenarios every day, from problem colleagues to damaged goods to pacifying angry customers.
  • Numeracy – there are tills of course, but you’ll still need a good grounding in figures to help with stocktaking and analysing sales figures.
  • IT – this is increasingly important, so make sure your tech and social media skills are up to date.
  • Tact – occasionally, customers will be irrational, angry or just downright rude to you and your fellow members of staff, and you need to be able to respond calmly and professionally to defuse any conflict.
  • Flexibility – the hours can be unsociable as more stores open late. Shift work may include evenings, weekends and bank holidays.