Merchandising: area of work

Merchandisers put their analytical skills into practice to decide what should be sold where and the quantity of stock that is required. Business-minded graduates may find themselves well suited to this fast-paced area of retail.

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The decisions that a merchandiser makes are crucial to the success of the business.

What is merchandising?

A merchandiser decides which stock to allocate to which stores and in what quantity. For example, a large store based in London may sell more dresses than a smaller store based in Wolverhampton. As such, the merchandiser responsible for dresses (or perhaps for clothing in a supermarket) has to decide how many dresses or how many different lines of dresses each store needs.

The decisions made by a merchandiser are crucial to the success of the business; if they make a poor choice, there could be financial and logistical implications. If the merchandiser were to give the smaller store the same amount of stock as the larger store then they may run the risk of not being able to sell it all. This could mean having to pay for the stock to be stored in warehouses. Or it could mean having to sell off the stock at a reduced price in order to get rid of it. Alternatively, if the merchandiser underestimated the amount of stock the larger store would get through it could cause a demand problem. Customers might not be able to get the product they want and so may turn to a different retailer.

What is the relationship between merchandisers and buyers?

Buyers choose which products the retailer should sell and merchandisers decide how much of each product to buy and where the stock should be allocated. In order to make these decisions, merchandisers need to work with buyers to identify customer trends. They also constantly review sales history and monitor how well different products are performing; this helps them to identify which products need restocking and which ones aren’t selling as well as expected. They consider factors such as how variations in footfall and demographic will affect the type and amount of stock required in different stores.

The main priority of a merchandiser is to make sure that the departments or stores for which they are responsible meet their sales targets and ensure a healthy profit margin. If margins are below expectations, they will need to analyse the reasons behind this and alert management to the problem.

What degree background or qualification do I need for a career in merchandising?

Many graduate schemes or entry-level roles in merchandising do not require a specific degree subject, but some may ask for a numerate, analytical or business-related subject. Some employers may also ask that you have a particular degree classification.

Postgraduate courses in merchandising are available and can help you develop your knowledge of this area. However, it is worth checking with individual employers to find out their thoughts on postgraduate courses; major retailers don't typically have roles specifically for postgraduates. Moreover, according to Tejal Raichura, a merchandiser for women's casual jersey-wear at Next, ‘a postgraduate qualification is useful if you can apply the things you learned to the role, but it isn’t usually a requirement.’

There are some merchandising placements available that could help you get ahead, although any experience of working in a retail environment will give you valuable insights into aspects that a merchandiser needs to consider. If you secure a job in retail, make sure you use the experience to find out useful information for this area of work, such as the different types of customer and the products that are popular. By considering factors such as how the location of the store might impact how much – and what – it sells, you’ll practise thinking like a merchandiser.

What skills do I need for a graduate job in merchandising?

  • A love of retail and good commercial awareness
  • Excellent data analysis skills and confidence working with numbers
  • Presentation skills and the ability to explain data clearly
  • The ability to use database and spreadsheet software
  • Strong decision-making skills
  • The ability to identify and offer effective solutions to problems
  • Good communication and teamwork skills.

Merchandising graduate schemes

Graduate schemes are a great way to start out in a particular area of retail and to gain the skills and experience needed to maximise your potential for career progression. Some of the larger retailers have specific graduate schemes for merchandising. Others combine this area of work with buying, such as the TJX merchandising and buying graduate scheme. In other companies, you may be able to take on an entry-level role that will also give you the training needed to progress.

A graduate will often join a scheme as a trainee assistant merchandiser and they will normally work across a range of departments in order to gain experience. For example, within a supermarket chain a graduate might work in clothing and then electronics.

There is great potential for quick progression within merchandising. As you gain experience, you will most likely become an assistant merchandiser responsible for a small range. Eventually, you may progress to being a merchandiser, overseeing a large area within a department. In smaller businesses you may be responsible for a whole department.

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