Industry: Retail

Introduction to Retail

Employing three million people in the UK alone, retail is one of the largest employment sectors in the world and one of the biggest fields of opportunity for new graduates. Most retail careers will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Buying
  • Distribution
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Merchandising

Retail is vital to a wide range of industries, from electronics and machinery to fashion, cosmetics and food. As skills and knowledge are transferable from one to the other, you can specialise in a particular industry, work across a number of different industries or even diversify into related fields, such as marketing, making it a dynamic and exciting industry for job seekers.

What roles are open to me?

There are many different retail roles available, from customer service and marketing to management, stock control and ecommerce. Typical graduate positions are generally based at the company’s Head Office in buying, merchandising, marketing and distribution, or may involve in-store management.

Well known for promoting from within, opportunities to progress and diversify are frequent within most retail companies.

Major Companies

Major retail companies include LIDL, Tesco, Marks and Spencer, John Lewis, Home Retail Group (which incorporates Argos and Dixons), Arcadia Group (Topshop, Miss Selfridge, BHS, Evans), GAP, TK Maxx and ASOS.

What qualifications and skills do I need?


There are many graduate roles and graduate training schemes available. Generally, retail companies are happy to accept good degrees of any discipline, although some prefer graduates with degrees in related subjects like marketing, business studies or merchandising. In addition to your degree, you will need to show that you have a good understanding of what the company does. Communication and leadership skills, numeracy and the ability to work as part of a team are also vital for many retail roles.


In retail, ability is as important as qualifications, making it one of the most rewarding sectors for non-graduates to break into. Often, non-graduates will start working in-store as a sales assistant, at the weekends or as work experience, and will work their way up from there. Many will also apply for retail apprenticeships. Similar to graduate training schemes, they offer a good starting salary plus full training and, on occasion, a performance-related bonus. As with graduates, you will need to exhibit a keen interest in retail as well as strong interpersonal, leadership and organisational skills.

Training Opportunities

In addition to graduate training programmes and retail apprenticeships, many companies offer on-the-job training and courses to top up and develop your skills.

Application Process

Although it varies depending on the role you apply for, the application process for retail jobs generally follows the steps below:

Average Salary

The average starting salary for both graduate training programmes and non-graduate retail apprenticeships typically ranges from £20,000 to £30,000. As you progress and gain experience your salary will increase, with senior buyers, retail managers and merchandisers often commanding salaries of £43,000 to £50,000 and above. In addition, you may be eligible for performance related bonuses and benefits.

If you work in fashion, you could also enjoy perks such as sample sales, discounts and free samples.

Are there any downsides?

The downsides to retail vary depending on your role. Although you’ll generally work standard office hours, shift, evening and weekend work is a requirement of some roles. If you work in a customer-facing role you may occasionally have to deal with difficult or demanding customers, while roles involving negotiation and budgets, such as buying, can be stressful and high pressure.

Is it right for me?

The sheer variety and number of retail opportunities available mean there could be a role that’s perfect for you. If you have excellent communication and leadership, good numeracy and are happy to work as part of a team, visit our forum to discover more.

Further Reading

The 10 Key Skills for a Job in Retail

Improve Aptitude Test Performance