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Retailing is the UK's top service sector, contributing over £90 billion to the UK economy and has a workforce of over 3 million people. It's also one of the most dynamic industries in the UK - high profile, constantly changing and increasingly a 24-hour, seven-day occupation. Merchandising is a key area of this industry as it strengthens the link between the customer and the shopping environment or experience. Why not consider a merchandising graduate career?

There are not many jobs in an industry which can give graduates the responsibility for direct control of a multi-million pound turnover business. Multiple retailing has a continual need for strong, clear thinking management at its core. All retailers have centralised their controls in one way or another, to make best use of their resources and maximise their profits. A retailer is only as good as the ranges that it sells and merchandising is one of the most important professions within retail.

The Head Office structure of large high street multiples consists of a number of departments, each responsible for product area e.g. suits, dresses, accessories. Each department consists of two teams responsible for buying and merchandising a product area, supplying every branch within their chain of shops. Those teams work very closely together but have separate functions. The buying team ensure that the product bought will be right for their target customer. In putting together a range, buyers will assess products on various criteria including, fashionability, style, colour, suitability, quality and overall value for money.

Working alongside the buyers, merchandisers must ensure that the products selected by the buying department are allocated to the right stores in the right quantities at the right time. If stocks run out, the merchandiser takes the blame therefore making it vital to know your market very well. Merchandisers must understand the psychology of the shopper, as they shop, and find the ultimate way of presenting products within a store. This means anything from controlling the colouring and theme of a display to its physical positioning in the store.

Merchandising is fast moving, competitive and target orientated. Minor errors can result in vast reductions in profit. This aspect can be either a challenge or a source of stress and there are always tight deadlines to meet. Merchandisers are specialist professionals based at the heart of the business, with full responsibility for overall profitability.

Average Merchandising Graduate Salary

Merchandising Graduate Career Path

The Merchandiser is responsible for all commercial business decisions made, such as how much money should be spent, how many different lines should be bought, and in what quantity. They set the selling prices to regulate profit and decide on when the stick should be delivered into the business. To put this responsibility in perspective, it could be that the merchandiser could be dealing with between a £5 million and £50 million turnover across hundreds of shops. Any mistake or miscalculation has a 'multiplier effect' resulting in potentially huge losses. There is no tolerance of such mistakes and this makes the working environment extremely pressurised. The challenge is in making the right moves and correct judgement which has the same multiplied impact on turnover and ultimate profitability.

This is a job where liaising with buyers, sales staff and suppliers is one of the main concerns, so if you're considering a merchandising graduate career, you'll need to decide whether you have the relevant abilities of charm and persuasion to be a success. It is also worth bearing in mind that the exact role of a merchandiser varies between companies. In larger organisations the role may be based at head office, in smaller outfits however you could be based in-store.

Most graduates will start as a merchandising assistant or allocators and will get involved in sales analysis, data entry, store liaison, allocation of stock as well as lots of administration to support the merchandisers. Trainees will learn the ground rules of the business. The training varies from one company to another but generally consists of a combination of on the job instruction and internal/external courses. The first couple of years are spent learning all the modern merchandising principles, which aid the merchandisers to input orders and chase suppliers for the delivery of stock. You will be dealing with several suppliers, sending many thousands of units, at various times and using a variety of transport options. The delivery of stock becomes a complex logistics exercise, challenging even the smartest operators.

During progression graduates could be responsible for sales and budgetary control of a multi-million pound department and managing a team of people within four or five years of joining. The next levels are merchandiser and merchandise controller. Further training is provided in-house, on the job. Usually the two year training is competency based, working towards specific tasks and undertaking projects either individually or in a team environment.

Most companies are equipped with the latest computer systems which link up-to-date sales information from the stores to Head Office. Management Information Systems (MIS), including EPOS (Electronic Point Of Sale) have dramatically increased the speed with which Merchandisers can respond to customer needs. Full training is given so that employees are fully conversant with the IT systems which break down huge quantities of information into a precise analytical format.

Numerous exciting opportunities exist with leading fashion and non-fashion retail companies on the high street, and in mail order, coming under a variety of titles including merchandiser, distributor/allocator and stock controller.

Most of the larger retail outlets offer graduate merchandising training schemes, while smaller companies offer apprenticeships, which give individuals the chance to work their way up, however, competition for places is fierce. Salaries for graduates can start quite low but there are rapid promotion prospects for the best performers. Rewards reflect your performance and established merchandisers can earn a good pay package plus company car and excellent benefits.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into Merchandising graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for Merchandising by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

Qualifications and Skills Needed

Although this industry sector is open to all graduates, a degree in the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • business/management
  • accountancy and finance
  • textile technology
  • economics
  • computer science/IT
  • mathematics/statistics
  • operational research

To enter a Head Office based career, you must have some experience on your CV within the retail industry (possibly within stores), together with a personable and dynamic approach. Work experience is a good way in to the industry, although it will be a challenge to get it and you may have to be persistent. Any general office based work will inevitably be beneficial, although previous work in a customer-facing commercial role will strengthen applications. An effective merchandiser needs to be able to accurately interpret computer reports and literally read figures. You will be required to take on business initiatives essential to improve sales performance and reduce costs, consequently entrepreneurial flair is essential. However, equally important is your understanding and passion for the retail industry, together with a dynamic and charismatic personality and an ability to work well in a team.

Graduates interested in starting a career in merchandising will need to demonstrate a wide range of skills on their CVs. Potential candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • sound decision making skills
  • the ability to identify problems and recommend solutions
  • the ability to plan and prioritise
  • good communication and negotiation skills
  • the ability to work under pressure
  • good analytical and numerical skills
  • aptitude for teamwork
  • self-confidence

Excellent communication skills and the ability to keep a cool head under pressure are imperative within this career sector. You will learn to prioritise business options and fully appreciate the significance of your actions, visualising the implications of the system and the impact on the customers at shop floor level. You will also learn about the distribution of stock to the stores. The overall objective being that each brand has the best possible range of products for their customers and sufficient back up stock so not to lose sales or customer loyalty. Bearing in mind that you have a finite quantity of stock, to obtain the best sales volumes you need to find the balance between each branch's rate of sales and space available. This will avoid loss of sales and also prevent stores being overstocked (which can be equally costly).

Sources for Further Information

Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply 
British Retail Consortium