| James Innes

Careers in Retail - A The CV Centre Guide


The retail sector is one of the UK’s largest employers with opportunities always available at both entry level and management level.  Retail as an industry has developed significantly since the introduction of the Internet with many leading stores using their website to promote and sell their products and others feeling the need to diversify within their stores to enable them to remain competitive.  The leading supermarkets, such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA, not only sell groceries but now also sell clothing, electrical equipment, furniture and financial products.  Boots has progressed from being just a pharmacy into a leading outlet selling cosmetics, health foods, health care and toys.  With so much competition from Internet traders, the need to offer more products under one roof to ensure customer loyalty is becoming essential to the survival of these larger stores.  Other new services which can add value to their business is home delivery, something that has proven popular for Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.  However, this has obviously had an impact on independent traders who are increasingly unable to compete with the prices and services offered by the larger retail operators.

The retail industry covers a broad array of products ranging from groceries, books, clothing, shoes and sports equipment to electrical goods, telecommunications equipment, furniture and home improvement products.  There are also department stores such as Debenhams, John Lewis and Harrods who offer a diverse range of products in either town centre or out-of-town locations.

The general responsibilities of a Sales Assistant in the retail environment are to handle product enquiries on behalf of customers, process till transactions and ensure that the store is clean, fully stocked and well presented at all times.  They are required to demonstrate excellent product knowledge, strong communication skills and a passion for customer service.  A smart appearance and the ability to work well with other members of a team are both essential.  Retail Managers are generally less involved in direct customer service and more involved in the financial and operational performance of the store or their department.  They are responsible for ensuring that targets are achieved and that any problems or issues are resolved.  Personnel duties include recruitment and training and the general supervision of other members of staff within the store or department.  They may also be accountable for controlling stock levels and placing orders with suppliers.

Entry requirements

It is quite possible to obtain an entry level position within the retail industry without any formal qualifications although some experience in customer-facing or cash-handling environments is considered desirable.  There are a number of vocational qualifications available which can facilitate progression within the industry and these include NVQs in Retail Operations, Sales and Customer Service and a BTEC First Diploma in Retail.  Many of the larger retailers offer management training programs for both graduates and non-graduates.  These can involve working in either store or head office operations and will generally provide an insight into all management activities. 

Progression opportunities

Even for those who enter the industry at Sales Assistant level, the prospects for promotion are generally excellent, particularly within the larger chains, even though this may involve relocation depending upon availability of vacancies.  Regional management positions involve responsibility for multiple operations and there is also the opportunity to diversify into other specialist areas including merchandising, marketing, buying, stock control, personnel and training.  Although the industry is affected by economic trends and fluctuations in consumer confidence, it continues to be a very popular industry to work in and, while competition for vacancies is usually fierce, there are always going to be positions available in retail for the right candidate.

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