About graduate careers in retail
The retail sector comprises a vast range of career paths, from IT and logistics to finance and property, as well as shop floor positions. Along with clothes and goods that are typically associated with shopping, the sector covers retail banking, ecommerce and food technology, and, as such, employs a lot of graduates.
- Head to our retail job roles explained section to find out more about the different areas you could work in.
Retail is highly important to the British economy, and the largest retailers have significant ability to influence and shape it. For example, the continuing popularity of online retail and the advancement of technology in shopping is largely due to retailers striving to compete with one another. There is consequently a big demand for graduates in this sector who have an understanding of customer needs.
Challenges currently facing the sector include the high cost of renting and managing commercial premises. Well-established supermarkets continue to fight fiercely for profits as discount retailers remain popular among consumers. There is also concern about where products come from and how much is wasted, which has led to retailers being more transparent about how products are sourced.
- Take a look at our guide to the top trends affecting the retail industry to make sure your industry knowledge is up-to-date.
Opportunities for graduates
Graduate roles include general management positions such as area and premises management, as well as specialist roles, including buying, merchandising and fashion design. There are also plenty of opportunities in support functions, such as finance, human resources, technology and marketing.
- Take a look at these employer hubs to find out more about retailers and get employer-specific application and interview advice.
Many retailers offer graduate schemes – normally training programmes and fast-track management schemes – that allow graduates to try out several aspects of the business before choosing a specific career path. These schemes are generally open to graduates from all degree disciplines, although it is common for specific degree backgrounds to be a requirement for technology and design schemes. In general, retail offers excellent opportunities for progression. Within three to five years an ambitious retail management graduate could be managing a large store with a multimillion-pound turnover and hundreds of staff – sooner if they join an accelerated fast-track programme. However, in a store-based (rather than head office) position, shift work is to be expected.
Recruiters look for graduates who have good communication, analytical, leadership and teamwork skills.
They will also prefer you to have done some work experience on a shop floor – for example, through a part-time job – no matter what role you apply for. However, any work experience within a commercial or customer care environment will put you at an advantage. Many retailers offer summer internships, industrial year placements and shorter, more informal work experience weeks, too.
Students interested in retail…
- mostly studied business/management (45%), creative arts and design (16%) or computer science/IT (6%)
- preferred to engage with employers through stands at careers fairs (66%), and via them being guest lecturers (64%)
- expected a salary of £22,535; many, but not all, retailers pay more, according to the employer data collected by GTI (head to our retail graduate salary round-up for a list of the salaries retail employers currently pay their graduates)
- were perhaps more entrepreneurial than students interested in other sectors, with a higher than typical number agreeing with the statement ‘I am thinking about founding my own start-up company during or straight after my studies’ (30%)