Retail recruitment jargon explained

Cutting through retail jargon
The secret to getting on to a recruiter’s apprenticeship or school leaver scheme is to show them that you have the skills they seek – but first you need to understand what these are. To help, we’ve cut through retailers’ recruitment gobbledy gook.

Retailers have a language of their own, which can be particularly confusing when they are describing the attributes they seek in employees. We’ve scoured retailers’ recruitment sites to find and translate the trickiest jargon for you.

‘You will need to drive sales and profits’

You’ll see this phrase in advertisements for most managerial and store-based roles.

Driving sales is primarily about selling products when in direct contact with customers. As an employee for a retailer, you may have your own sales targets to meet, but you must also work to help others achieve theirs.

As a trainee manager in a supermarket, to drive sales you’d place orders for new products based on what had sold well previously and strategise product placement on aisles (for example, placing the products you most want to sell where customers would be most likely to see them) – while coordinating and encouraging a sales team. As a sales consultant in a fashion retailer, to drive sales you would have to engage well with customers, praise their choices and suggest complementary purchases (‘add-on sales’, known as cross-merchandising).

Maximising profitability is a key part of sales and is to do with selling more, but also to do with being efficient and economical: not wasting energy, time, stock, money or other resources.

‘We need leaders to hit challenging KPIs’

You’ll see this phrase in advertisements for many managerial or team leader roles.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are quantities that can be measured to reflect how effectively a retailer is carrying out key business strategies. Each business unit has its own set of KPIs. For example, the marketing team’s KPIs will include things like customer acquisition (gaining new customers) while the HR team’s KPIs will be based around aspects such as staff turnover.

‘Within the role, you will promote a sales culture’

Everyone is expected to help do this and so you will see variations of this in the ‘Culture and values’ section of retailers’ websites. It may also crop up in job descriptions.

Don’t be confused by the word ‘culture’ here; it simply means the environment within the retailer, and the values and attitudes of its employees. What you should note is that this refers to everyone working within the organisation, from the CEO to the shipping clerk. Everyone should promote a sales culture by embracing the fact that they work in sales and that every time a customer interacts with the retailer it matters. A sales culture should also be an environment in which everyone is enthused and driven by sales, and where there is a genuine awareness of figures and targets.

‘It’s your job to deliver a great customer/shopping experience’

Most job descriptions for store-based roles emphasise the importance of customer experience in the job description. Customer satisfaction is the main priority for all retailers, and as such the goal of providing a good ‘shopping experience’ should be remembered no matter what role you are applying for.

It also relates to sales culture in that it includes every single aspect of who and what the customers come into contact with, both in store and online. This includes:

  • cleanliness and general retail environment (lights, music, décor, atmosphere)
  • usability of the online services
  • interaction with staff and length of queues
  • availability of desired items
  • parking and the facilities available
  • ease of access.

‘You need to be agile in the way you think’

This phrase could crop up in the job requirements section of the online application for any retail role – from technology apprentices to trainee managers.

Retail recruiters increasingly seek employees who are ‘agile’ in the way that they think. What they really mean is being able to think in different ways, and being able to change the way in which you respond and react to situations as circumstances change. So that includes being creative, flexible, and innovative to come up with solutions fast. What they don’t want are employees who become habitual in the way that they approach tasks or those who ‘get into a rut’.

‘You should feel comfortable managing ambiguity/change’

This could appear in the ‘Skills you need’ section of online applications, particularly those for trainee manager or team leader roles. It is also important for logistics apprenticeship positions.

To be successful at dealing with change, you need to be an ‘agile thinker’ (see the section above for more on agile thinking). Managing ambiguity is making decisions without having all the facts you’d really like. For a trainee manager, this could be placing an order for a new product without knowing how popular it will be and how many units you will sell, and therefore how profitable it is.

‘Applicants should be commercially-savvy/have commercial nous’

Being ‘commercially-savvy’ is an incredibly common role requirement for almost any job across all sectors.

‘Nous’ just means intelligence or common sense, which means ‘commercial nous’ is an understanding of how commerce works. Commerce, simply put, is business: buying and selling, trading, and making a profit.

To be ‘commercially-savvy’ is to understand and have an interest in commerce, as well as an understanding of the wider environment or market place in which an organisation (or retailer) operates. This means knowing who its competitors are, who its target customers are, and which customer needs the retailer is aiming to meet.

It is also about understanding the business benefits (such as making a profit) and commercial realities (such as how much things cost), from both the retailer's and the customer's perspectives. Finally, it is important to be aware of issues and current affairs affecting the retail industry.

‘You need to have a way of inspiring confidence in others’

This is a skill that trainee managers, in particular, will be asked for.

Retailers often look for this quality in applicants to management schemes. It is to do with encouraging and giving guidance to colleagues, and also to do with being capable and confident so that your colleagues feel at ease, trust the decisions you make and directions you give, and feel that you have their and the retailer’s best interests in mind.

‘In our business, we live a shared philosophy/have a culture all of our own’

These phrases may not come up in the applications themselves, but you might see them on the recruiter’s website as part of the company information.

What the phrases generally refer to is the company culture. This relates to the retailer’s core values and goals (which can generally be found on the ‘About us’ section of its website). Retailers try to encourage the idea of community or family among the staff, which means that emotional loyalty (caring about the retailer you are working for) and integrity are highly valued. During the recruitment process you’ll be assessed on whether you share the retailer’s values and culture, so research this before you apply.

‘We are a vertically integrated retailer’

This phrase could crop up in the company information section on a retailer’s website or job application form.

Vertical integration is when two businesses at different stages of production merge together. For a supermarket, this could be a food manufacturer and a chain of supermarkets. This gives companies greater control over their inputs. If supermarkets describe themselves as this, it essentially means that the retailer sources and processes most of the fresh food that it sells through its own manufacturing facilities.

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