Retail & Sales careers • What is the retail and sales industry actually like?

You might think that careers in retail are a bit repetitive and just involve relentlessly stacking shelves, folding clothes or scanning barcodes. You might think that people who work in sales are just dodgy second-hand car salesmen with bizarrely coloured suits, drenched in the overwhelming smell of cologne.

Alternatively, you might think that people who work in sales are those annoying guys who phone you up at six o’clock every night, or turn up at your door and try to get you to buy a new mobile phone.

Well to be honest, that’s not entirely true.

So before you make the decision to get into retail and sales, you should firstly discover what it’s really all about.

How does the retail and sales industry work?

When we buy something in a shop, online or over the phone, we are responding to the hard work of the charming people who work in retail and sales. Even when we can’t afford to actually buy something and just decide to do some random browsing or window shopping, we are still interacting with the work of retailers and salespeople.

Have you ever thought about what really goes into running a shop or a sales business? Who decides what goes in the window displays? Who decides to put the shoes downstairs and the jeans upstairs? Who decides what to sell? How do they make things look so shiny and exciting? Where does all the stock come from? Every time you buy something, your experience is subconsciously affected by the decisions that have been made by the many different people working in retail and sales careers.

Transactions in these areas are not always done directly between businesses and the public; in fact, many sales careers are focused on making business-to-business (B2B) deals. Indeed, most businesses need to buy things from other companies before they can make money by selling their own products.

Pretty much anything can be bought and sold. Not just tangible products like clothes, cars, houses and cleaning products, but things like advertising space and information.

What skills do I need for a career in retail and sales?

Careers in retail and sales are not only about selling and making money; they are all about providing excellent customer service. People don’t enjoy buying things because they like handing over their hard earned cash. They do it because they enjoy the whole experience: the casual banter with the person at the till, the enthusiastic discussion with an estate agent about the amount of space in a new house, and the haggling involved in getting a really, really good deal. Charm is king in retail and sales careers! Therefore, the main things you will need are excellent communication and customer service skills.

What are shop floor roles?

A huge range of careers exist in every kind of shop you can imagine: clothes stores, supermarkets, department stores, computer stores, sports shops, music shops, book shops, and many more.

Understandably, every shop needs shop floor staff, sales assistants, loss prevention staff and store managers – these guys are essential. They make sure that the stock is out on the shelves, transactions are processed, nothing is stolen and that everything goes according to plan.

People who work on the shop floor are the front line of customer service and are the living, breathing faces of the shop’s identity. Choosing the perfect staff is therefore absolutely necessary. If people don’t like a shop’s staff, they won’t come back and spend their money again.

What is visual merchandising?

Every shop is designed and set out in a certain way. This enhances people’s shopping experience and encourages them to buy things that they may not even have considered buying before they came in. These vital decisions are made by the people who work in visual merchandising, display design and store design/layout.

What is the buying/purchasing department?

Shops need to keep up with market trends, fashions and public interest. Consequently, the buying/purchasing department is needed. These guys decide which products need to be bought at what time, before they are sold to the public. After all, there isn’t much point in selling loads of polka-dot bikinis in the middle of winter.

Many retail organisations have different branches across the country, and deciding which shops need what stock is really important. Regional and local buying trends can occur; for instance, the population of Glasgow might buy a lot of oranges and passion fruits, while London’s residents might love apples and pears. Consequently, many jobs are available in the merchandising, allocation and distribution areas of retail. These guys make sure that the right products are available to the right people, and in the right places.

Why choose the sales industry?

Selling is a very proactive process. It doesn’t only involve making a consumer aware of a product or service, but actively persuading them to buy it. People who work in sales do their selling in a variety of different ways: over the telephone, face-to-face, on the street, on people’s doorsteps, on the television or even over the internet.

Sales careers exist in a massive range of industries. Across the country people are selling everything, from medical supplies and chemicals to houses and mobile phones. You may have heard of certain careers that you didn’t even know were sales-focused, such as recruitment and even some charity fundraising work.

The best salespeople can make a lot of money. Every person who works in sales has targets to meet and extra money to earn through commission. These motivate people to work even harder, especially considering that if you hit your targets you might even get an extra salary bonus.

So, whether you are interested in asking madams and sirs whether or not you can help them with anything today, think you could subliminally encourage them to empty their wallets using only your trendy, artistic wizardry, or you see ‘targets’ as an adversary that needs to be smashed, a career in the lucrative retail and sales sector might just be perfect for you.

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