Department stores, supermarkets, online boutiques: the retail industry has never been so diverse. Accounting for around 10% of all UK employment, it’s a major part of our economy and, despite recessions, looks set to continue to thrive.
When it comes to career paths in the retail industry, options are manifold. From apprenticeships to graduate programmes, everyone is welcome – especially those who are online-savvy (owing to the growth of online retail platforms). This diversity and sheer breadth of people defines the retail environment itself – which of course is all about people, like you and me. As the old adage dictates ‘the customer always knows best’ and, with that motto in mind, climbing the rungs of the retail career ladder will prove less of a mad trolley dash and more of a structured shopping spree.
Those who work on the shop floor are the lifeblood of the retail industry: from Sales Advisors to Chilled Food Operatives to Bakers making fresh bread each and every day. Without these employees the British public wouldn’t be able to do their weekly shop, indulge in some retail therapy or kit out their new home.
Working in-store comes with a myriad of benefits: one in particular is the flexibility of work available. Retail is home to teenagers looking for a Saturday job, to students requiring shifts when they return home from university, to mums seeking to return to work (but who still need to be back in time to pick up the kids from school), and of course a multitude of full-time employees. With many stores and supermarkets open 12-hour days (or more), shift work is common – both for day work as well night shifts (especially for supermarkets open 24 hours a day). Another benefit, which for many people may not immediately spring to mind, is the useful staff discounts provided by many roles: 20% off your weekly shop can really help the budget!
This role is one entirely centred on the customer. The Sales Advisor’s role is to ensure the customer is provided with all the help they require, as well as given consultative advice (if they need it) and is of course encouraged to purchase from the shop. People skills are therefore essential, as is a cheery demeanour and can-do attitude.
Depending upon the role, previous retail experience is generally desired – whether this has been accrued in a part-time or temporary position. The role of Sales Advisor can vary from shop to shop: in some positions, you will be paid a yearly salary, and be expected to help customers when they require it, work on the till serving them directly, or ensure the store is kept tidied and fully stocked. Other roles, however, may place more emphasis on the sales aspect of the title: here you have the opportunity to earn commission on each sale that you make. This means that although your basic salary may be lower than in a non-commission-based role, you’ll have the chance to supplement this with sale-based commission and sometimes bonuses (for hitting targets). For this type of job then, you’ll need to be able to persuade customers to make purchases, and accommodate their needs to ensure you make regular sales.
Managers are tasked with ensuring a store runs efficiently and is as profitable as it possibly can be. To become a Manager or Assistant Manager in retail, you’ll need experience of looking after a team of Sales Advisors in a supervisory or managerial position. Managers are responsible for making sure the best possible customer service is delivered not only by themselves, but also by their team of staff – and so motivating and coaching your team to meet sales targets is often a key aspect of such a role.
Store Managers are often customers’ first port of call – good and bad – so you’ll need to be prepared to dilute problems and appease angry customers, and advise and assist in a friendly manner (sometimes all at the same time!). But it’s not only shop-floor duties that fall at the door of Manager: training and development, data analysis of sales, organising special promotions and interpreting trends can all be part and parcel of the job. But with this breadth of responsibility comes reward of course – so if you’ve got plenty of retail experience and irrepressible team spirit, this could be right up your aisle.
Words: Jessie Bland
[This article was originally printed in Jobs & Careers with Hilary Devey magazine in May 2013]