We’re all experiencing some level of uncertainty when it comes to the future of retail. However, the chances that retail will simply disappear as an industry are practically non-existent.
True, employers will have to be mindful of the effects Covid-19 has on their businesses. But as the world is slowly moving out of lockdown, the industry will slowly bounce back and begin gearing up towards impending successes.
If you are looking to pursue a career in retail, here are some of the challenges, as well as some of the opportunities you will need to be mindful of.
Flexible Working Hours
Many people get into retail straight out of school or when looking for a part-time job as a way to work around their studies or other employment. This choice often later turns into a career, as they realize they love retail and would like to grow in the industry.
And while certain jobs in retail certainly come with flexible working hours, and you are usually left with some level of choice as to the shifts you will be working, there are jobs in retail that are more of the 9-5 variety.
Depending on where you want to start, the direction you want to move in, and your preferences, you may or may not have the luxury (or hindrance) of working in shifts. Working on weekends is another drawback you might have to face, so make sure you are ready for some flexibility before you embark on a retail career.
Working with People
Working in retail is often a people-facing job: whether you work on a shop floor, in management, or even in shipping, there is often someone else to consider. Before you take your first retail job, ask yourself whether you are ready for this, and how well you work with others.
Of course, you don’t just have to be a people person in order to succeed in a retail career – but you do have to be a good communicator and be prepared to experience some stress inflicted upon you by others.
For example, if you are not comfortable with confrontations, you may not want to work on the shop floor. That’s where you’ll typically run into a customer or two who are going to be very demanding and cause all kinds of unpleasantness.
Another point to consider when working with people directly is your sales skills. Can you convince someone to make a purchase? Can you advise them on the best item to buy? How well can you communicate all this information to different kinds of people?
A Variety of Career Options
Luckily, even if you are not a people person and don’t want to be a salesperson, there are a bunch of retail career options you can explore:
This is still, without a doubt, the first thing most people think about when talking about retail. As we’ve already mentioned, you will need to have sales and people skills, be a good communicator, and have somewhat thicker skin, as you will be placed into contact with all kinds of people, some of whom might not be very nice.
It helps if you are naturally positive and outgoing, and if you are able to talk to anyone about anything without too much stress.
The good news is that even if you start on the floor, you can literally work your way up to the top and get into all kinds of other branches of retail in time. In fact, one can argue that working a year or two on the floor will give you a unique insight into how things work and how the different pieces of the industry fit together.
Managers in retail will oversee different stores or a set of stores and monitor their performance. There are store managers, responsible for a single store, area managers who are responsible for two or three, and district managers who are above area managers.
Of course, you can climb even higher, to regional or worldwide managers, as long as you have the necessary skills.
In order to work well as a manager, you will need to be a strong leader and coach and have a knack for getting the best out of your team. There is a lot of organization involved as well, so if you are hopeless at managing your own time, this might not be the best career choice.
3. Visual Merchandising
The tasks of a visual merchandiser are best suited for someone creative and good at design. These are the people who design what a store will look like, whose job it is to draw in shoppers and make sure they have a pleasant experience in a certain store and with a certain brand.
The choices they have to make might seem trivial, but are, in fact, crucial: where to place which item, how to showcase different products, what items to place in the shop window, and so on.
Being a naturally visual kind of person is a great asset, as is some knowledge of psychology – but you can learn on the job, and can get into the field with no prior work experience.
4. Buying and Planning
Buyers and planners in the retail business are the people who make the decisions about what kinds of products will be sold at a store, and in what kinds of quantities. They choose wholesalers to work with, and they plan things like getting the products from the wholesaler to different stores in the right quantities, on time, and in line with what shoppers are looking for.
These are the people who actually choose what a customer will be able to buy, and there is a lot of knowledge required to do the job right, but there are entry-level positions available if this is your area of interest. You need to be good with numbers and understand how supply and demand works. There is a whole lot of logistics involved as well, which you can learn on the job.
5. Supply Chain
Entry-level jobs in the supply chain involve drivers, warehouse employees, and other positions, such as dispatch. There are also management positions at warehouses or at the different delivery departments of a brand.
The skills you need to succeed in this kind of role include project management, finance, and accounting, as well as some legal knowledge. You will also need to be familiar with procurement and shipment systems and procedures.
People working in the supply chain are often the unseen heroes of retail, as they get a lot of the grunt work done, without anyone seeing their work.
Of course, these are not all the careers you can have in retail – and your career options will depend on where you live and the size of the branch of retail you want to work in.
Opportunities for Advancement
As you have already seen from the examples above, retail offers plenty of room for advancement and has a lot of different branches available. You can start at ground level and work yourself up, and you can even move laterally from one sector to another.
The more experience you have in a certain branch of retail – for example, clothing or beauty – the easier it will be to land your next job within the same branch. That’s why you might want to consider focusing on a sector of retail you are personally interested in, and where you won’t find working with a certain kind of item taxing or boring. Needless to say, having a real passion for your product will help make you even better at your job.
Most of the skills you acquire while working in retail are highly transferable:
- You will learn how to make a sale, negotiate with people, communicate better, and get your point across. These skills will work well in nearly every other career.
- You will learn how a big system works, which means you will have an innate understanding that can later be used in other large systems.
- If you hold down a managerial role, you will need skills working with people on different projects. Your organizational and leadership skills will also work in any other industry.
Depending on the role you play in retail, you can easily find a similar job in another industry, or even capitalize on your experience and transfer into a whole different industry. Anything from marketing to IT can benefit from you have worked in retail.
Never a Dull Day
The thing about working in retail is that you are never likely to have the same kind of day twice. There is always something new going on: new customers, new shipments, new products, new issues to solve and new goals to achieve. Even if you work on the shop floor, there will be all kinds of new people coming in, with their own demands and experiences.
On the flip side, this can mean you don’t get any slow time at work. It can be non-stop from the moment you hit the floor until your shift ends, and you will need to have the stamina for it.
This means you will never be bored, and that there will always be something new to learn. If this is not something you feel you would thrive on, retail might not be the best career choice for you.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a dynamic career where there is always something going on, retail can be a dream come true.
You Don’t Need a Degree
Another positive side of retail is that you often don’t need to have a university degree to get into an entry-level position. Of course, if you are looking for a higher-level position, you will either need a degree or relevant previous experience, but starting at the bottom should be relatively easy.
Some stores will have a certain set of demands even for their lowest positions, so you may not be able to start out with the brand you were hoping for – but once you have worked in the industry for a while, you should have no problem.
Online May Be the New Normal
One of the potential drawbacks of retail is that online shopping may become the new normal and that people may spend less and less time shopping in physical stores than they do in front of their screens. With the coronavirus pandemic, this has become a sad reality. Most stores around the world are closed, and retail businesses need to figure out a way to work around the issue.
As online dominates the market, there might be fewer job opportunities available. However, this does not mean all shops everywhere will close – on the contrary, there is nothing to say a brand can’t operate both online and offline (in fact, most of them do).
The truth remains that brick-and-mortar retail stores will have to battle with eCommerce stores in the years to come. However, there will always be shoppers who prefer to see an item in real life, try it on, test it out, and simply enjoy the experience of shopping.
This may mean that experiences become the next focus of the retail industry, and providing the best possible shopping, and customer service becomes the new norm. We will have to wait and see.
Now might not be the best time to look into a retail career, as the industry is undergoing some unprecedented hardships. But, the fact remains that retail will always drive an incredible revenue and employ a staggering number of people.
If you are looking to launch your career in the retail industry, make sure to consider your natural talents, the kinds of jobs you are looking for, and how much you want to be dealing with people on a daily basis. Once you have an idea of the type of job you want to do, start exploring the way to get there – whether by starting at a lower level, gaining additional training, or applying for a position.