Would a career in retail, buying and fashion suit me?

Would a career in retail suit me?
Find out whether you’d enjoy a career in retail, buying, merchandising, logistics or fashion, and whether you have the skills to succeed.

The retail industry offers a wide variety of careers and your working life will be very different depending on which job role you choose. Different areas of retail will suit different people: there are roles for creative people, detail-oriented people, leaders, teamworkers and more. There are roles for those who like to work on the shop floor and in an office. While you should investigate which retail career interests you, you should also ask yourself the following questions.

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Skills? Working environment? Travel? Shiftwork? Target-driven? Stamina?

Do I have the skills to succeed in retail?

Good retail professionals understand what customers want, predict what they will want in the future and consider how to give it to them. Retail is all about the customer; everything you do will revolve around them. Retailers aim to sell goods at a profit and gain repeat custom.

There are some other key skills that you need in all retail jobs. These include:

  • communication
  • problem solving
  • decision making
  • the ability to spot trends
  • teamwork
  • attention to detail
  • self-motivation
  • time management and organisation.

However, it is particularly important for merchandisers to be good at maths and able to analyse information. Buyers and merchandisers, in particular, need to be good at negotiating good deals. Fashion designers and visual merchandisers need to be creative and able to draw. Anyone going into management needs to be able to lead – that is, to take charge, to inspire others to action and to make decisions with limited information.

What’s the best type of retail working environment for me?

Retail roles are generally split into ‘store-based’ and ‘head office’ positions.

Store-based positions are, as the name suggests, where you will work in a particular store, either on the shop floor or in the stockroom. If you are a store manager or trainee manager, you will split your time between a back office and wherever you are needed in store or in the stockroom. You may also be on the shop floor if you take up a stockroom or retail assistant role. The store environment is ideal for those who:

  • would hate to be chained to a desk all day
  • like to be on the front line, seeing what direct impact their work has on customers and profits
  • get a buzz from interacting with a variety of people – whether customers or clients.

Buyers, merchandisers, fashion designers, product technologists and ecommerce, HR and finance professionals tend to work in a central ‘head’ office rather than individual stores. The decisions they make don’t just affect one store, but all of them. These professionals work in an office, but it might be an office with a difference. A merchandiser at Next told our graduate careers site, TARGETjobs, how the Next head office includes a life-size store so that they can work out what would look best in store.

Professionals who work in head office aren’t necessarily office-bound all day. For example, product technologists, buyers and merchandisers spend a lot of their time visiting suppliers and factories. Product technologists might also spend some time in laboratories. Fashion designers visit suppliers and fashion shows.

Head offices are often, if not always, based in big cities. This environment is ideal for those who would enjoy the city-based, ‘business person’ lifestyle.

Many logistics managers (also known as supply chain managers or procurement managers) can work within a retailer’s head office, too, but may also be based in warehouses or distribution centres. Visual merchandisers may work in head office, be based in one store or split their time between a number of stores, depending on the employer.

Do you want to relocate and travel?

It is likely that you will need to relocate during your career. This is especially the case if you take up a store-based role such as retail manager. Retailers want their most successful personnel to go to wherever their talents can be used best, such as setting up a new, flagship store. Many retailers’ graduate schemes often state that graduates shouldn’t apply unless they are prepared to relocate during and after the scheme.

If you work in head office, you are less likely to have to relocate but may be ‘seconded’ (sent) to a store as part of your training and development or if the team there needs additional help. This is especially the case if you work in product technology, fashion design, buying or merchandising, but can also be the case if you work in finance and HR too. You may also spend quite a bit of time out of the office travelling to visit factories, warehouses or suppliers. Travel may be in the UK or abroad and may involve day trips or overnight stays.

If you are excited by the idea of travel and would relish the challenges that come with relocation, retail would be a great career choice for you. If you are more of a homebody or have commitments at home, you could find that not being able to travel will hinder your career development as you progress beyond an entry-level position.

Could you handle shift work and flexible working?

If you work in a store-based position, you will work shifts and be expected to be flexible about when you work them. This is the same whether you are the sales assistant or the manager. Those who work for head office tend to work more regular nine-to-five office hours, although they work some overtime in busy periods. Are you the type of person who thrives on change? Will you be miserable if you have to miss a social commitment or football practice, for example, because of work?

Are you motivated by targets?

Retail is a target-driven environment. Each store will be set a daily, weekly and monthly target of sales to make. Every member of staff will be set their own targets to ensure that financial targets are met. Even as a merchandiser in head office, you will need to keep track of daily sales and work to ensure that the departments you are responsible for meet their targets. Are you the kind of person who is motivated by the idea of smashing a financial target and confounding expectations or do you crumble under pressure? If you're the latter, perhaps retail isn’t the best industry for you.

How is your physical stamina?

Many retail jobs are surprisingly physically demanding. If you are in store, you will be on your feet a lot and may be called in to help create displays as well as to lift items. If you are in head office, the work will be less physically demanding. If you have a physical disability or medical condition which would make working in some positions difficult, it is worth contacting recruiters to discuss things before you apply. It may be that there is another role that is more suitable for you or that the retailer could make reasonable adjustments.

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