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Today, retail is the UK's largest employer outside the business services and health sectors. The retail industry employs over 3 million people with year-on-year growth, making it a significant contributor to the UK economy. Between 2013 and 2020 the retail sector workforce is predicted to grow by almost 55,000 people. The majority of this growth is expected to be within managerial positions as more highly skilled managers are in demand due to technology, customer trends and more sophisticated supply chain management. Now might be the time to start your retail graduate career.

In an increasingly competitive market, companies are having to constantly compete to provide better customer service, including online and multichannel retailing. Customers want to combine the personal service of traditional retailing with the convenience of using technology, hence the rise of ordering online for delivery or collection in store. As a result of this, there is a demand for graduates with technical skills to, for example, produce apps for smartphones.

As customers continuously demand more rapid delivery of online shopping purchases, logistics has become increasingly important and is a significant area of growth within the sector.There is also a need for graduates who can combine their creativity skills with commercial awareness for roles in marketing and buying, and graduates with analytical or number skills for roles in merchandising. Therefore, retail is a very promising career choice for graduates with a variety of roles on offer within the sector.

The industry is still undergoing changes as more channels to market are becoming available and the traditional high street environment continues to be under great pressure. Supermarkets continue to place significant emphasis on their web offering, and companies such as Amazon have completely redrawn the lines of business for book and music stores. The growth of the internet as a sales tool has heavily influenced the recruitment demands of many retail organisations. Today, there is still a high demand for graduates with a good understanding of the internet as a sales tool, and therefore a lot of opportunities exist in web marketing, web analytics, and web sales roles.

Average Retail Graduate Salary

Retail Graduate Career Path

Many of the large high street retailers offer fast track graduate management training schemes. Providing an insight into all business departments, such recruiters allow graduates to ultimately choose which career path to take. Programmes offer both classroom and on the job training, therefore allowing trainees to quickly gain industry and job-specific knowledge.

Those starting a retail graduate career can gain experience across the fields of buying, merchandising, analytical work, logistics, human resources and marketing (including brand and online marketing). The retail industry can offer a structured career path and many graduates go on to become business leaders and senior managers.

There are few careers that allow graduates to take such immediate responsibility for their performance and actions and many successful graduate retail employees reach managerial status after just a few years. Generally, employees will start a career within an Assistant position, but advancement is sharp and consistent across the industry.

At present there is a huge graduate demand to fill positions in the following areas of retail:

  • Merchandising: ensuring the supply chain runs effectively so that goods are in-store when consumers require them. Merchandisers work alongside buyers, allocating stock to various outlets by analysing sales trends and forecasting for future demand. They are also responsible for negotiating prices with suppliers and implementing promotions strategy.
  • Business Analysis: disseminating large amounts of data to identify industry and market trends as the basis of an overall business strategy. Analysts are the "eyes and ears" of the organisation, studying the habits and behavioural trends of it's customers.
  • Marketing: planning and implementing a retailer's traditional and web marketing strategy. Marketing is a key business differentiator in this sector as the landscape becomes more and more competitive.
  • Buyer: a very popular route for graduates, the position of buyer ensures a retailer has the stock to sell to its consumers. They identify market trends and predict forecasts in stores and online channels. They often work with suppliers to fill a hole in the market with new products.

Other opportunities also exist within customer services; loss prevention and security; store management; visual merchandising; IT and technical support; warehouse, distribution, logistics and supply chain.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

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

GRB Placements for Retail by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

Retail organisations are not subject specific in their graduate requirements and usually welcome applicants from a wide variety of degree courses for a lot of their roles. Although a relevant degree may be preferred for some roles. For example a fashion or art degree for roles in fashion buying or visual merchandising or for logistics and supply chain, some employers specifically require a degree in transport, logistics or supply chain management. On the whole, recruiters seek graduates who are able to demonstrate the following on their CVs:

  • Strong numerical and analytical skills 
  • Common sense with commercial awareness 
  • Good communication skills 
  • Organisational skills 
  • People management skills
  • An understanding of the high street 
  • Experience on the shop floor or store level
  • Creativity, negotiation skills and strategic thinking
  • A willingness to work unsociable hours and weekends

Sources for Further Information

Institute of Grocery and Distribution 
Booksellers Association
Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply
Chartered Institute of Marketing