A career in Retail

Shoppers walking along a busy high street


Like many industries, the retail sector is undergoing a lot of change, but it continues to provide exciting career opportunities. There are many flexible working opportunities available for women in all kinds of part-time, full-time and temporary roles

State of the industry

Almost three million people are employed in the UK’s retail industry – over 10% of the UK workforce – and it’s a key employer of women, with around 58% female staff. Around half all retail employees work part time.

It’s an industry undergoing big changes, with stores closing and online shopping growing, but many well established retailers continue to thrive. Retail sales are now valued at £321 billion per year and are predicted to continue growing. The biggest retailers are the top four supermarkets.

The retail sector’s main challenges are the rising costs of running stores and the growing demand for e-commerce. Internet sales now account for around 20% of retail. Because online-only businesses are able to sell at cheaper prices, they put competitive pressure on store-based retailers.

There is now a race to adopt digital technology to make sure that customers can buy via their preferred channel. Technology is also part of a drive for cost savings across the whole retail operation.

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Qualifications and ways in

There are a variety of jobs within the retail sector. Many of them won’t require a degree, particularly at the more junior levels. Those with a degree, however, may find they can rise up the ranks more quickly.

It isn’t always necessary to have a retail management or retail merchandising degree because there are many areas of retail where other qualifications will apply. These include finance, HR, fashion, marketing and operations.

Typical job roles within the sector might include (taken from Prospects, the Graduate website):

  • Buying – finding new products and developing ranges.
  • Design – creating new products.
  • Finance – analysis, reporting and strategy.
  • HR – hiring and training staff, providing support to managers.
  • IT – business systems.
  • Logistics – product distribution.
  • Merchandising – market analysis and working with budgets.
  • PR and marketing – promotion, communication and media.
  • Retail Banking – customer facing banking.
  • Store operations – managing a store.
  • Visual merchandising – designing and producing product display.

Working in the retail industry can be hard due to its commercial nature, which can put pressure on people to perform and hit targets. The hours can be long, particularly as stores are increasingly open for business around the clock.

Work-life balance can be a significant issue in an industry which often has long or antisocial working hours. Yet many outfits are working hard to plug the gap and, for many, the flexibility is a reason to join the sector.

The fact that the industry is set up for after-hours working and shift patterns is a way for working mums to continue with their careers whilst balancing financial and family commitments.


According to PayScale the average UK salary in retail is £27k. A sales assistant or sales advisor can expect around £7 per hour, rising to £8 for a customer service assistant.

At the higher levels, an assistant manager receives on average £20k per year, rising to £25k for a store manager. An area manager can earn between £60k and £80k.

Salaries will vary depending on the part of the country you’re working in and the sales volumes in your particular store and sector. The general size of the store is also related to the salaries of those working there.

The electrical sector has been a strong performer in recent years, and in telecoms – e.g. phone shops – there are fairly considerable sales bonuses available. In some cases these can reach up to 50% of a salary package.

Buyers and merchandising specialists can command high salaries. A trading director could earn anywhere between £120,000 and £200,000 in London whilst, at the other end of the scale, a buyer’s administrative assistant might earn between £15,000 and £20,000. A design director could earn between £50,000 and £120,000.

In addition to good career progression opportunities, a huge benefit of working in retail is the chance to have employee discounts on store merchandise.

To get a good sense of the kinds of retail job opportunities available in your area, take a look at our Retail Job Search.

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