Logistics in retail: what is it?
In retail, logistics is concerned with managing the movement of products from point of order, through to manufacture, storage and distribution. This process is known as the supply chain and the main aim of employees working in logistics and supply chain is to get products from A to B in the most cost-effective, fast and environmentally friendly way possible. Within this process are many constraints and demands that require effective management. Logistics in a retail environment can be particularly stressful during periods of high demand, such as Christmas and summer, when the supply chain is stretched.
As such, one of the key roles of a logistics manager is to think ahead to the upcoming supply and demand for different products, making plans to ensure products are where they are meant to be at the right time and at the right cost. Logistics requires decision making and good coordination with those in the different areas of the supply chain as well as with others in the wider business.
A typical logistics or supply chain function comprises different teams or departments responsible for different aspects of the process. As an example, a store might be made up of three divisions: supply chain operations, transformation and internal consulting, and inbound logistics and wholesale operations. Each division would have a number of teams within it, each one carrying out specific functions. For example, the inbound logistics and wholesale division would be concerned with the operations used to source and import products from abroad. Each retailer has its own system, which will vary according to aspects such as the size of the retailer and the type of stock that they are dealing with. Fresh food products will require a different approach to products with a long shelf-life, such as clothing, for instance.
As well as making decisions regarding long-term requirements, logistics managers are responsible for the day-to-day planning of the department. This could include checking and managing stock levels and storage, making sure targets are being met, and leading and motivating teams. Team leadership is particularly important because logistics managers could be dealing with members of different teams, clerks, supervisors, managers and customers all within the same day. It isn’t a typical nine-to-five job and logistics professionals have to deal with issues as they arise. They are expected to carry out shift work and might not be able to predict their shifts from week to week.
Key job roles in logistics
There are many different roles within logistics and, although it is unlikely that graduates will experience all of them, it’s good to be aware of some of the key positions that you are likely to encounter. A few examples include:
- Shift manager: Shift managers monitor the performance of the supply chain from day to day and make sure that all the necessary work is done and everything runs smoothly from one shift to the next. Shift managers often work to key performance indicators (KPIs) – for example, whether the target for the number of successful deliveries has been reached. Other tasks carried out by a shift manager include managing and motivating employees, ensuring the number of staff is sufficient, and thinking of ways to improve work efficiency.
- Operations manager: Operations managers are usually based in warehouses or distribution centres. Their role is to ensure the success of all the operations involved in distributing the retailer’s products. This includes tasks such as: effectively managing and motivating team members, solving any problems as they arise, making sure safety standards are met, and managing projects to improve the overall efficiency of operations.
- Transport manager: Transport managers are responsible for the direction and organisation of all transport processes within the supply chain. Their main role is to ensure products are dispatched and delivered successfully in the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way. This could include tasks such as: planning and overseeing day-to-day activities as they are carried out, deciding the best form of transport to use in different circumstances, ensuring the legality of all the means of transport being used, keeping an eye on transport costs, and managing team members.
- Find out more about logistics, transport and supply chains
What degree background and qualifications do I need for a career in retail logistics?
Some employers will accept graduates with a 2.2, although many will expect a 2.1. In most cases, retailers do not specify a degree subject, but engineering, maths or science subjects are likely to be preferred.
There are postgraduate courses in logistics that may help you gain specialist skills and knowledge; however, none of the major retailers have roles specifically for postgraduate students.
What skills do I need to get a graduate job in retail logistics?
- excellent problem solving skills
- strong communication and teamwork skills
- leadership skills and the confidence to manage others
- the ability to think logically and creatively
- strong decision-making skills and the ability to thrive under pressure
Logistics graduate schemes in the retail industry
Most graduates enter logistics through a retailer’s specialist logistics graduate scheme. These are available with most large retailers, such as Morrisons and Marks & Spencer. On such training schemes, graduates often work across different areas of logistics to get a varied experience. You might spend time working with the shift manager, for example, or you might do a rotation in transport management.
At the end of your training you will normally be given the opportunity to choose your preferred area of work. The majority of graduate schemes work on the premise that you will eventually take on a management role; however, there is no guarantee that this will happen straight away – it very much depends on how you have performed during your training period and whether the right opportunities arise.
In logistics generally there is a lot of opportunity for progression. As a fairly new manager, you might be managing a small warehouse or a section of a distribution centre, for example. Eventually you could be responsible for overseeing the logistics across an entire region, and supervising thousands of employees. Your career progression will be enhanced if you remain as flexible as possible, particularly with regards to working location.