GUEST BLOG: the retail sector – it’s not about shelf-stacking

UoY Careers Rocket illy   Guest blog written by: Sophie Adams, Manager, Recruitment (John Lewis).

The retail sector – shelf stacking on minimum wage or a £100k+ leadership opportunity?

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Retail sector. Some perceive it as a low skilled and low paid sector and for some roles that would be fair, but what opportunities are on offer for graduates?

Most retailers offer graduate and placement opportunities in a wide variety of functions. When thinking of Retail you probably think of store management roles which can be great – running a large store can provide a salary in excess of 100K as well as the satisfaction of being responsible for your own results and 100s of employees. Let’s focus on other roles you might not be as familiar with though. 

Support functions help our branches to trade successfully. John Lewis Head Office schemes include Buying, Merchandising, Finance and Technology. Other retailers can offer an even wider range of opportunities in functions such as Supply Chain, Marketing or HR. It might be you have your heart set on a career in Finance and have been focused on applying to the big four but joining a Finance programme at a Retailer might be attractive when you find you would be part of a small intake with opportunities for more individual development opportunities rather than competing with 1000 others on a larger, more generic programme.

Most retailers will say that many candidates fail to understand Buying and Merchandising. Every year at careers fairs I meet students who fancy buying as they think it involves lots of travel and being able to use their language degree. At senior levels, it certainly does involve travel but sight seeing is likely to comprise of airports, the back of a taxi and a lot of factories and supplier meetings rather than sun soaked beaches! As English is spoken widely in the business world, languages are not something we look for during recruitment and selection. Buyers need to have a passion for product, an understanding of consumer behaviour and an instinct for what will sell well. This needs to be coupled with a head for figures and the ability to negotiate strongly to achieve good profit.

Merchandising is not window dressing! It is another Head Office role which works very closely with the Buyers. Merchandising is the analytical, numbers side of Buying. They need to work with the Buyers to ensure that we buy stock in the right quantities and at the right time. They are also responsible for managing the supplier relationships to ensure that we move stock through the supply chain in the most efficient way. Merchandisers work with branches to identify products which are either selling well and so need more stock quickly or moving slowly so they can identify how to sell more – perhaps promoting in a different way or reducing if appropriate.

Click on the below link to a video showing the differences between Buying and Merchandising and how they work together:

Technology is a growing function within Retail as is currently the fastest growing function in the sector. Gone are the days of the stereotype of someone working in IT. This is such a critical area of any retail business as it becomes essential to have the latest technology available for our customers to be able to shop and interact with us. Technology plays a huge role internally as we need efficient and effective systems to help employees do their jobs well and good systems ultimately save time and money.

The key thing with Retail is not to write it off as a low paid sector with limited opportunities. For the right graduates the sky really is the limit – just ask our MDs – Andy Street (John Lewis) and Mark Price (Waitrose) who both joined the business on our graduate scheme!

Sophie has worked at John Lewis for 12 years since joining on a local graduate training scheme. Her role is responsible for all graduate and placement recruitment at the John Lewis Partnership.